By Mary Berman, manuscript editing intern
When I’m not reading, writing, begging my friends to hang out with me, or talking on the phone with my mom, I’m interning in the Manuscript Editing department at JHU Press. For nine hours a week, I proofread, check revised manuscripts against the marked-up masters, make sure indexes are properly alphabetized, and, if I’m lucky, get distracted from my work and wind up immersed in something I actually enjoy reading. The job is a good outlet for that side of my personality that twitches every time it finds a misplaced apostrophe, which is basically my whole personality.
I like my job, because I like books, and when I started back in September, I found it thrilling to know that when the books finally made it to the shelves, I would have had a hand in putting them there. Occasionally a manuscript I’d already looked at would come back to me, and I could see the marks I’d put on it, my handwriting recognizable from its smallness and its straightness and the blue pencil I always make a beeline for. But as the semester chugged forward, as schoolwork piled on, I began to find the endless process of close reading and mechanical grammar-checking tedious. Sometimes it almost seemed like a waste of time. The piles of paper on my desk were less like future books and more like, well, piles of paper.
But then something amazing happened.
Two weeks ago, on my way out the door after a standard unpaid four-hour shift, I passed the shelf of recently published books that the Press displays on every floor, and one particular title caught my eye. Dead Women Talking. It was a neat title, and it was a neat book. I knew it was a neat book because I’d seen it before, long before its binding and pretty matte dust jacket. I had gotten caught up in reading it when I was supposed to be carating its note numbers.
I veered over to the shelf and snatched it.
“Was this just published?” I asked no one in particular, and no one in particular answered me. I ran to my boss’s office and shrieked, “Linda! Was this just published?”
She glanced up at me as I brandished the book, waving it about like it was one of Wonka’s Golden Tickets. “I think so. Which one is that? The Norman?”
“I mean, like just published. Like, yesterday.”
“Yes, we just got a whole bunch of new books from the printer.”
“I worked on this!”
I’m sure I looked like a madwoman, my entire countenance lit up by the discovery of these 250 slices of paper, this picture of a woman in a black dress. But Linda just grinned. “Would you like to take it home and look at it?”
“Sure. Just bring it back tomorrow.”
“I promise I won’t let anything bad happen to it.”
“I’m sure you won’t,” Linda said.
And that’s not the only one I worked on, either. A whole slew of familiar titles attacked me the next day when I went to return the book: Monstrous Motherhood. Nightmare Alley. Phantom Menace or Looming Danger?. Books about bioweapons, books about eighteenth-century English literature, books about the American Red Cross. Six or seven of them, in total, some of them fascinating, some obscure, some mind-numbingly dull, but all of them books. I had helped to make new books!
After seventeen years of going to school, of writing endless essays and solving problem sets and studying for exam after exam, this – the process of making incredibly minor edits, and then seeing the tangible result – is easily one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done in my life. It’s like the time I visited a house I’d helped build for Habitat for Humanity, and I saw the “Home Sweet Home” sign attached to the front door. I’d forgotten what it feels like to make even the tiniest of marks.
What’s the most satisfying experience you’ve had in your work?
This post was originally published at Mary Berman’s blog, The Perspective Factory, and is reprinted here with her permission.