Interview conducted by Jennifer D. Foster
Have you ever wondered what fellow editors like to read? We have, too. In our interview series “By the Book,” we get the inside scoop on editors’ all-time favourite books, their top style guide, and what their alternate-universe career would be.
Tell us about your current job, Claire, plus a little-known quirky fact about you.
I’m currently the Editor of Publications and Exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), where I manage all the curatorial text the gallery produces. As one half of the AGO’s publishing department, I’m involved in every catalogue from beginning to end. I work with curators and authors to develop ideas. I edit and copy edit catalogue content. I collaborate with image researchers and book designers. And I attend to all the nitty-gritty details, like making sure we’re listing the correct dimensions for a work of art.
On the exhibition side, I consult with the gallery’s in-house curators, interpretive planners, and designers to create the material you see on the walls when you walk through an AGO exhibition. It’s fantastic to work with so many creative people and on such a wide variety of projects. I can be thinking about Michelangelo one day and Suzy Lake the next. It’s also a treat to work at the AGO. If I feel like taking a break, I can wander through the gallery’s incredible collections, which is a pretty great perk.
Here’s a quirk: I love a good road trip. Some of my favourites have been the Blue Ridge Parkway, the American South and the stunning Pacific Coast Highway—but I only got my driver’s license last fall. I’ve earned my keep as a passenger through solid navigational skills and great taste in podcasts—and by befriending some very generous travelling companions. Now that I’m licensed, I’m hoping to make up for lost time in the driver’s seat. I think the east coast of Canada might be next.
What is your all-time favourite book and why?
My standard answer to this question is Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. It’s a stylistically brilliant, morally complex story told by one of the most intriguing, most unreliable narrators in all of literary fiction, and I also think it’s the Great American Road-Trip Novel (see above). I still have a soft spot for the modernist novels I was obsessed with as an undergraduate, including William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is by far the funniest book I’ve ever read and I think Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is a masterpiece. My favourite novel about art is Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
In recent years, however, I’ve found myself more drawn to non-fiction as well as short stories. When I’m not attempting (in vain) to keep on top of The New Yorker, I opt for essay collections by Joan Didion and David Foster Wallace or in-depth reportage by Lawrence Wright and Katherine Boo. I’m also a sucker for cultural histories. I’ll read a lively and convincing chronicle of practically anything, from rooms (Bill Bryson) to anti-intellectualism (Susan Jacoby). As far as short stories go, I love Lydia Davis, George Saunders and Junot Díaz, who are all crazily innovative with the form in very different ways.
What is your favourite editing manual, style guide, or other book about editing/writing?
As far as reference books go, I’m pretty partial to The Chicago Manual of Style, which hasn’t let me down yet. I also love the insights and suggestions Carol Fisher Saller offers in The Subversive Copy Editor. And though it’s not a favourite, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style. I wrote my MA thesis on undergraduate style guides and the development of the “less is more” approach to writing and The Elements was a touchstone throughout my research. I don’t really agree with it but I do think it’s a fascinating artifact.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t an editor and why?
As someone who spends most of her time in front of a computer, I often fantasize, in a Shop Class as Soulcraft–y way, about working with my hands. I find cooking, developing recipes, and feeding people extremely gratifying. So in a parallel universe, I could certainly see myself working in a kitchen or a bakery. In fact, my favourite thing to make (and eat) is ice cream, so my current daydream involves opening a little scoop shop with offbeat seasonal flavours and a strict cone-only policy.
Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto-based freelance editor and writer, specializing in book and custom publishing, magazines, and marketing and communications.
This article was copy edited by Nicole Osbourne James.