Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Art of Newspaper Editing

There are times when reading the newspaper is an act of autopilot - scan headlines, read a few interesting paragraphs, turn page, repeat. And then there are times like this morning when it becomes clear that there's a difference between reading a well-edited publication like the 11-12 August 2012 edition of the Wall Street Journal versus scanning the robot-generated Google News.

At the risk of sounding like a introduction to a 12-step self-help program, I primarily get my news from reading newspapers. I read the Fort Worth Star-Telegram with breakfast each day and on the weekends I read the Wall Street Journal and the Fort Worth Business Press. But I digress.

So what in the WSJ gave me a warm fuzzy?

It will not surprise you that a book review of William Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury (Coloring a Classic, Just as Faulkner Had Hoped) is at the top of my list. You might wonder why they're reviewing a book first published in 1929. The edition in question is a new limited-edition from the Folio Society that does what Faulkner had wanted to do - print the novel's notoriously complex - yet absolutely wonderful - opening section by the idiot Benjy with color codes for the different timelines in his monologue. Some may think that if you need to go to this extreme to make your novel understandable you've failed as a writer. Even Faulkner was unsure whether he got Benjy's section right despite insisting that he didn't make it complex on purpose. I'll agree with the review that "Benjy's monologue is one of the great tours de force of stream-of-consciousness writing..."

What's funny about this edition of the WSJ is the Faulkner review shares a page with a critical review of Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Case for Southern Secession (A New Turn in the South). Author Chuck Thompson, according to the reviewer, seems to be more serious than humorous - but after all, good humor is based on a kernel of truth. But the juxtaposition of the two reviews further detracts from Thompson's thesis. Faulkner's writing captures something truly American - not Southern - and binds the past, including the Civil War, inextricably with the present. Having been raised a yankee but now having spent nearly three decades in the south I can say that North and South are more alike than different, simply two sides of the same compass needle.

The WSJ doesn't stop there. Having enjoyed many a craft beer in my day I'm always interested their reviews of craft beer and this weekend the WSJ profiles the brewing of Belgian-style lambics in the U.S. But the article's title is The Sour and the Glory - a tasteful nod to Faulkner's novel.

Lest you think I've become a WSJ fan-boy think again. They ruin it all with a horrific photo essay A Salute to the Spider.

Perhaps I'm just a horrible reader and these things are there all the time. But they did make me smile today.

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