Have begun reading proofs with red pen. Most authors will agree that by this point they can barely look at the words they’ve written. It isn’t just the fact that I’ve written ten drafts of this novel, though that certainly explains a feeling of “enough”. It’s something even stranger—-the palimpsest of the text. As I read, I am also reading and hearing the ghosts of the words that are no longer there: the phrases I first wrote, perhaps, struck out by the editor, or a particular way I formulated a sentence that has been superseded by something cleaner, better. As I read, I am reading all the drafts at once, and this creates a certain vertigo. It’s like seeing all the past versions of myself, stretching back over seven years.
Proof-reading the map for the endpapers is a little more fun. I’m transported back to Mainz, to the little alleyways and squares I now know by heart. I have spent a long time prowling those lanes in my imagination. Since the Allied bombings of World War II, most no longer exist except on maps. I confess freely my unadulterated joy when I learned that the City Archive had created an online “Housebook” of Gutenberg’s Mainz, a triumph of Big Data that lists every owner of every property in the year 1450. For readers’ pleasure and my own inner nerd I asked the genius illustrator, Laura Hartman Maestro, to shout out a few special places: my favorite “Dungheap” (Unter der Schweinemiste), the bathhouse, the Synagogue, the milling ships that grind the wheat using the current of the Rhine. Take a tour of the medieval city if you like. I’ll be the wretch over there in the corner, up to my eyeballs in red ink.