And here it is, my book, Where the Air Is Sweet. This version is the ARC, the Advanced Reading Copy (sometimes called a galley). It is the pre-published book. It is typeset, bound and looks almost exactly as the final will look, minus the flaps and fancy paper. The ARC is created so that we have something to send to booksellers and reviewers months in advance of the publication date.
I couldn’t be more pleased with the cover. I loved it when I saw it on a monitor but I love it even more in print. The colours are muted, elegant, and the image is both inviting and disorienting.
Reading a novel, like writing a novel, is an act of creation. The reader brings herself (her perceptions, experiences, beliefs) to the words on the page, to the story in the book, and in the union of reader and novel something new is created. And that is why a novel is always alive, fluid, rich with potential.
My first real taste of this experience was seeing how the designer interpreted and then expressed my novel. I love what she sees. I couldn’t have imagined it the way she did. But I couldn’t love it more.
I stared at the ARC of my novel for a few days, held it, admired it. I was thrilled, obviously, but I was also afraid. I didn’t want to look too closely. I was afraid if I did I would find mistakes. (A familiar sensation for anyone who works in publishing.)
The thing is, it says, right on the cover “uncorrected proof.” We can still fix mistakes. This is our last chance to catch them, in fact. So I needed to read it. And I did.
I found a few small typos. I also found some sections I might have, in hindsight, approached differently. The typos can be fixed. The rest will remain as is. Depending on the reading I have a different opinion anyways on how to handle a scene, a line. That’s why we let books go. That’s why we stop editing. I expect, despite this reading, some typos will get through to the final. This is the nature of books, of writing, of human beings: imperfection.
There is a tradition in Islamic art, in intricate rugs, portraits, mosaics to leave a deliberate flaw. This is a statement by the artist, a testament to the imperfection of human beings as compared to the perfection of God. I didn’t worry about adding a deliberate error. I’m 100 per cent positive one (or more) will get through without any effort on my part.
But this tradition reminds me that flaws are not only okay, they speak to what we are.
And on that note, I will quote a line from the magnificent Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.