Reading: Claire Kehrwald Cook's Line by Line

by Heath Sledge

Today's Useful Resource is Claire Kehrwald Cook's Line by Line.  This book about editing is aimed, not at editors, but at authors who want to self-edit; it offers far more extensive edits--and uses far blunter language--than most editors could (at least without feeling like vivisectionists). I will definitely recommend this text (cheap used copies are readily available on Amazon) to my clients--at least to those clients interested in improving the writing they produce without my help. (I consider my relationship with these highly motivated authors to have a kind of editorial planned obsolescence.) 


But the book is also a helpful resource for the editor. One very useful element is Cook's grammatical review, and the multiple examples that anchor the grammatical material make the principles especially clear. Most grammar books start at much too basic a level. Cook instead assumes a basic conversancy with the parts of a sentence and how they fit together; she aims at helping writers name these sentence chunks and visualize the rules that govern their interactions in an abstract, rather than intuitive, way. I'm finding it a useful refresher course; in fact, I wish I'd re-read this before finishing final edits of my dissertation. 


The organization of the book is clear and useful. Cook breaks down the most common problems afflicting sentences into chapter-sized chunks, which move from larger problems ("loose, baggy sentences") to smaller problems ("mismanaged numbers and references"). I especially appreciate her advice to simply tinker with one's sentences. This messing about with sentence order attends to the different rhetorical impacts of sentences that have the same elements, but that order them differently. This interests me deeply; in my experience, many, many problems with clear writing come from faulty subordination/coordination of ideas caused by sloppy syntactical subordination and coordination.   


I'm currently about halfway through. I'll write a final synopsis when I've finished the last couple of chapters.