Making Book, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

NESFA, 1994 (1996 reprint), 158 pages, US$11.00 tpb, ISBN 0-915368-55-2

As an occasional visitor to the Nielsen Hayden’s blogs (both husband and wife maintain online journals over at www.nielsenhayden.com; go take a look), I couldn’t resist grabbing a copy of Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s Making Book at the Torcon3 huckster’s room. (NESFA Press books are usually so rare in Ottawa as to be invisible).

At a scarce 158 pages, Making Book is a too-short collection of fifteen essays by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, long-time fan now editor at Tor Books. A fair number of them are reprinted from fanzines in which she participated (or edited!) and we can only consider ourselves lucky that they’ve now found a semi-permanent book-form home.

It starts with a bang, as “God and I” details how she “got hauled up in front of an ecclesiastical court this summer and formally excommunicated.” [P.1] It’s a great story, a poignant testimony, and you’ll have to read it to know more. But already the bar is set pretty high for the rest of the volume. Half-confessional, half-esoteric pedagogy, Making Book stands in many ways as a testimony to what nifty stuff can be found in long-forgotten fanzines. (Hey, how long until a “Reader’s Digest” of past fanzine highlights? Just asking.) [December 2003: Ho! Look at that! Fanthology ’87 is what I’ve been asking for!]

Not every essay manages to meet the standard set by the first one, but some of them still stick in mind. “Of Desks and Robots” ends up saying what a lot of us would wish to say about obscenely expensive purchases by billionaires who should know better. “Black Top Hat and Mustache” should find a special place in the heart of every public servant. “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoenherr” makes a fascinating point about theme parks and “The Big Z” will forever banish thoughts of narcolepsy as an amusing disease.

Some of the other pieces aren’t as successful. Without mentioning titles, let’s simply say that a number of them depend on highly specialized knowledge of the fan scene in the early eighties, which is obviously not accessible to everyone even despite the Internet and best intentions. There are nuggets of goodness here and there, but like the disclaimer to “Over Rough Terrain” suggests, you’ll end up having to do a lot of culling by hand. What remains is well-worth a read, though.

The other highlight of the book, however, is a reprint of her copyediting guide for Tor Books, back when such activities took place on a single manuscript copy that was passed from hand to hand (ack, ptui) and where copyediting jobs were subcontracted, creating an urgent need to make more of those freelance copyeditors conform to “the house style”. (Knowing the inherent conservatism of most publishers, things may very well still be like that nowadays, but that’s such an impure thought that I refuse to consider it.) “On copyediting” is a fascinating look at one of the most neglected parts of publishing, a revealing glimpse behind the scenes at one of the steps so necessary in making books for all. I’d love an update.

In fact, I’d pretty much love an update to the whole book. Let’s see: Since 1996, what else has changed in Nielsen Hayden’s life? What else has she written? What can be stolen from her blog and reprinted in book form? (I’d argue that the Mary Sue blog entry ought to be expanded. Republished. Celebrated.) And could we have more, more, more, please? 158 pages is not nearly enough, especially when it’s so enjoyable.

Oh well. Back to her blog. Maybe there will be new content over there.

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