||The Home-Made Look
Sloppiness, corner-cutting, wilful ignorance, and neglect
of quality for the sake of quantity are allowed but
not created by electronic gadgetry
I LIKE the mail publishing, houses because they bring Out virtually all our poetry, many novels and story collections, and most regional histories and life writings. But lately I`ve felt ripped off. Why am I paying $24.95 for a book I want to read but can`t because it`s so badly produced? Why do decently ,vritten hooks look as home-made as church cookbooks! How can nice thick paperbound books with flashy, expensive covers be so chintzy inside? The answer is -- and is not - - desktop publishing.
When asked, "Do you do desktop publishing!" publishers look at the floor and mumble. The microcomputer, the laser printer, and page-makeup programs such as Ventura and PageMaker have brought about a publishing revolution, but some users overestimate the degree to which technical competence can replace specialized knowledge. The term "desktop publisher" carries Such a stigma that few can bear to apply it to themselves. After waffling a kit, though, publishers agree that desktop technology is a godsend. Obviously 1. it`,,, a short cut in copy-editing and correcting errors, but it can save the hook designer the weeks she used to spend waiting for proofs, changing her mind, and waiting again for corrected proofs. Then making tip the pages on a monitor instead of with scissors and paste saves more days of toil.
Sometimes desktop publishers print out hooks on an office-model 300 dpi (dots per inch) laser printer and use this as camera-ready copy. Unless the printer is state-of-the-art and the publisher oversees the printing very carefully, this process produces type with noticeably rough edges. Publishers may invest in 600 dpi printers, or they may send their disks to phototypesetting firms offering even higher resolution. For instance, Julie Scriver, production manager at Goose Lane Edition-.,, Fredericton, might use her 300 dpi printer to produce camera-ready copy for a poetry book with a high ratio of white space to type. Readers of a relatively brief poem won`t be affected by a slight roughness, and printing the hook on a
hard-finished paper will make the type clean looking. But for fiction or history, with much less white space and much more type, Scriver may have a typesetter prepare 600 dpi camera-ready copy as well as using hard-finished paper. To make a piece of fine craftsmanship such as the pictorial No Hay Fever and a Railway, she sends her disks to a phototypesetter to get 1800 or 2400 dpi resolution.
According to Clyde Rose, three years ago Breakwater Books, St. John`s, became "one of the first publishers in the country to use in advanced desktop system." But, regardless of how easy it would he to publish a book straight from the author`s disks, Rose believes that "the primary responsibility of a publishing house is good solid structural editing." He has a professional designer on staff and, because his books are printed on decent paper, the 600 dpi resolution is comfortable to read. In a different market niche, Rick Cummings, Fredericton, Publishes a few local history titles each year under the New Ireland imprint. Cumming does almost no editing, a graphic designer provides the covers, and typesetters design the hooks. The two volumes of Both Sides of the Wire, by Ted Jones, SLIM LIP the advantages and disadvantages of this system. They`re beautiful Outside; inside, they`re clumsy looking but readable. Because Jones included every scrap of his research on the World War 11 prison camp at Ripples, N.B., the work is a treasure trove for scholars, but good structural editing would have made it half As long and twice as interesting.
Cummings thinks that the more attractive books are, the better they`ll sell, a view not field by Al publishers. Peter Goodchild, of Simon & Pierre, Toronto, Publishes books on a 286 microcomputer and a 300 dpi laser printer. Instead of a page-makeup program, he uses WordPerfect, and he asks author,, to provide manuscripts on disk in WordPerfect. Two hooks show the results of this practice. In Margaret Anglin: A Stage Life, the spacing is proportional only to the limit of WordPerfect`s rather crude capability. The amateurish appearance, coupled with the failure to convert the text from thesis to trade format, cripples a book of respectable scholarship. The spacinging irregularities in Agnes Macphail: Reformer pale in comparison with a quirk that probably looked passable in the manuscript: about half of the book is printed in italics. The blurry type and the light and dark patches on each page make reading the book so exhausting that few will be able to finish it.
A craze for thick, black, 12-point type (with characters about the Size of ordinary 10-pitch typing) has swept the small publishers. Why` Lorimer and Format: books using this type size took alike because, although the two houses are independent, Formac does all the typesetting in Halifax. James Lorimer explains that density is controlled in the photographic step of the printing process, but the designer chooses the type size. Breakwater, Simon & Pierre, and Dundurn also Use 12-point type, but I haven`t noticed it in hooks from the large houses. Is there some connection between desktop publishing and outsize type? Whatever its raison d`etre, it creates the effect of typing, a home-made look that I would expect small houses to shun. Worse, it makes fine writing and absorbing topics subliminally boring.
Nobody bats 1,000, but if any publisher issues too many shoddy books, the Canada Council axe will fall. Ann Yates, program officer of the Canada Council`s Writing and Publication Section, explains that publishers must account for how they spend their grants. Those who fail to meet the Council`s standards are given a year`s warning; if they don`t shape up, their grants are withdrawn. And, after all, the technology is new and changing, and publishers do learn from their mistakes. Dundurn`s Ishbel and the Empire (1988) is ugly and inadequately proofread, Life Before Stratford (1989) is properly edited and easier on the eyes, and Double Take: The Story of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres shows increasing mastery of the technology.
That mastery is the key to desktop publishing. Sloppiness, corner- Cutting, willfulignorance, and neglect of quality for the sake of quantity are allowed but not created by electronic gadgetry. Publishers isolated by a technology that permits one or two people to do all the publishing task, by themselves can accept a program`s default position uncriticalIy, Can turn a typist into a designer by fiat instead of by training, can indulge their own idiosyncrasies. But they don It have to. The axiom applies to book production as well as content: Garbage In, Garbage Out.
COMPLETE AND UNCENSORED
BACK IN FEBRUARY a woman from the Greater Vancouver Library phoned me to ask if I`d he willing to participate in a Freedom to Read Week event at the University of British Columbia. I hadn`t heard about any campaign that would free us to read, and I have my doubts that either the government or the corporate sector wants Its free to read. Scent,, to me that the government just wants LIS to quit Smoking mid to pay taxes on books, and the corporate sector would prefer to free up all Our disposable income and time for shopping at the nearest mall.
I didn`t belabour my caller with any of these misgivings. I said, sure, I`ll read, and asked her how Shed come tip with my name. She told me that the Writers` Union mentioned I`d been active on the issue of censorship, and that there`d been some attempt to censor my work in the Past. She was giving me a description of at least a dozen West Coast TWUC members, but since I had, as the chairperson (and sole member) of the union`s B.C. political committee, attended a couple of meetings to protest the federal government`s ridiculous C-51 censorship bill, I decided that I was an appropriate Person to have there.
The librarian wasn`t entirely clear about what I was supposed to do at the event. I could, she said, read some censored work, mine or someone else`s, or I Could talk about My experience of being censored. I could also talk generally about the issue of censorship, about its sources mid its seriousness in the current political climate. Or, if I Wanted, I Could mix And match. There would he two other readers, and afterwards we would all participate in I discussion.
Who are the other readers` I asked. I had visions of being on stage with Bill Kinsella, a man for whom local librarians have developed I great fondness because lie drinks orange pop and doesn`t stay LIP late at night. 1, on the other hand, have ,rown distinctly unfond of Kinsella over the last several years for a series of ill-considered pronouncements he`s made about Canada, its writers, and its free medical services. Seems lie likes Canada`s free medical Services but not Much else, including the Writers` Union. He believes that the United State,,,, which has lowa, more fields of corn, and guarantees everyone the freedom to live -- and die- on the Streets, is I better place. The other readers, the librarian said, interrupting my reverie, are Susan Crean, whose latest book is In the Name of the Fathers, and John Munro, the biographer of Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker. Fine. The next thing she told me wasn`t a Surprise. Writers hear it all too often: there`s, ih, not enough money in the bud get for an honorarium. We`re really sorry, but that`s the way things are these days.
I`d already agreed to perform, so I could hardly back off at this news. Besides, censorship is an important issue, and talking to Several hundred attentive university students about it sort of falls into the caregory of professional duty. SO I told the librarian it was okay, that I didn`t mind doing my part for a good cause. We discussed time and location, exchanged a few pleasantries, and hung up.
NOW, like most writers, I have a lot Of opinions about censorship. But my thoughts about it aren`t always a model of logical coherence. Giving this talk, or whatever it was, Would therefore take some preparation.
My basic attitude, I decided, is quite simple. If someone doesnt want me to read something, I`d better read it and find out why. In a democratic state that`s good citizenship. Thats why, when I was 18 arid newly arrived in Paris, my first act was to obtain copies of Naked Lunch And Tropic of Cancer (then banned). I could read from either Of those texts at the censorship event. But if I did, it would only explain my attitude as a reader, and I`d been invited because I`m a writer.
Had I ever been formally censored? Yes. Years ago I published a story about a very violent street brawl I witnessed as a teenager in Prince George. In the brawl, One of the protagonists had Used a very specific obscenity, repeatedly demanding that his opponent perform a mildly exotic oral sex act on him. When the rory was used as a college text locally, the college administration objected quite strenuously.
Now, the fact that my protagonist had used a specific obscenity was the whole point of the story, an,] I`d gone to a lot of trouble to make it clear that it wasn`t, say, ear-nibbling Or a game of tennis he`d proposed. The Story was about the homoerotic nature of street violence, -and the point I was trying to make was that when males want to beat on other males, it may be because they`re repressing other impulses. The repressed impulses are actually much less dangerous and harmful than violence, but in small towns they are held under profound proscription. My depiction of the event wits a brief, brutal, and clinical reportage. (I was under the influence of Hubert Selby Jr. in those days, and not quite so given to windy explanations of the things around me as I now am.)
I could read the story, shock a few people in the audience, and probably split it down the middle over the redeeming merit of the story. Then I recalled that I wasn`t just there to demonstrate ",by a few small-town bigots once wanted to take my head off at the neck for telling a very small truth, but to explain why, in a much larger and general way, censorship is evil and dangerous.
Writers throughout history have disliked censorship, and since Gutenberg, have frequently fought it with frenzied ferocity. I believe that this far-flung fight is more important than alliteration. Resisting censorship is part and parcel of a writer`s societal and political role, which, summarized, is to think whatever can be thought as accurately as possible, and (particularly since Gutenberg) to enhance the conditions of knowledge, which are based on clear thinking, good writing, and inspired and fearless research.
History tells us that censorship usually becomes a political issue when a lot of lying and deception is going on, and when one kind Or class of person gets the notion that they should impose their ideas on other people, or deprive people of a range of information. Censorship is therefore a symptom Of political and social dysfunction, and a signal that larger issues are being obscured or Suppressed. In a democracy, the attempt to use censorship in the fight against racism and sexism or to Suppress pornography is first and finally a signal that the education system has failed. It is important to recognize that these issues are resolvable only through education, not by the always-fundamentalist authority brought to bear in censorship. You get censorship when people get too sure of themselves, `Lind start believing that they know what`s good for Other people.
I even prepared some one-liners for the panel discussion. I had a brief and predictable statement on the Rushdie affair, and another one in which I said I couldn`t See much difference between religious fundamentalists who don`t want us to read Margaret Laurence, lifestyle or academic fundamentalists who don`t want us to read
Bill Kinsella, or cultural fundamentalists who are veering dangerously close to calling for a kind of self-censorship that would take away front writers the right to imagine what other people`s lives are like. I also had some libertarian bons mots about how history, cautious us that it is dangerous to give governments the tools to suppress ideas, even in the name of apparent good sense or short- term public order. I was ready, for the first time in my career, to make a coherent statement about censorship.
About 15 people came to the event. Someone had forgotten to put up posters, I guess, and the absence of advertising meant that we were outdrawn four to one by a lecture on pituitary degradation in North Korean pineapple squirrels. One of the 15 who came was a woman I`d gone to high school with, and I think she was there to try to censor a story I`d written a few years ago in which I half accused her of trying to drown me in a swimming pool. Susan Crean, John Munro, and I gave Our talks, talked to one another and the two or three students who hung around afterwards, and went our separate ways, thoroughly depressed.
So what wisdoms do I draw from all this? Well, aside from having learned to ask librarians, next time, what they have in mind in the way of advertising, it seems evident to me that freedom to read is threatened, but the threat is a Subtle One. One aspect of it is that there is such a glut Of reading material coming at us that it is demoralizing readers and writers alike. Another aspect is that we`re probably better off worrying about our ability to read, and the astonishing fact that a million Canadians are functionally illiterate. Maybe we need to think more about reading and less about freedom.
Beyond that, however, lies an even more toxic malaise -- that of our collective will to read --what Crawford Killian calls aliteracy. He argues that the hyperstimulative cultural environment we`ve created appears to be disabling our capacity to carry Out independent investigations of reality. Without that, our, uh, cherished freedom to read won`t mean a thing.