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27 September 2009 @ 03:06 am
The Dark Tea-Time of the Soul  
I think that’s where I’ve been for the past (Yikes!) four months. As you probably know, that’s Douglas Adams’s (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) clever play on the term “dark night of the soul.” It’s not as hopeless as the Slough of Despond, but more like the Bog of Blah, that overwhelming inertia that results when copy editing, proofreading and cataloging all come together in one short summer of “Huh?!? What was that? You mean that was it?”

And yet all sorts of really good things happened. The first of which was: I got a great cover design for my new novel, Pride/Prejudice. Check it out on my website home page: http://www.annherendeen.com

Next, HarperCollins produced an ARC, an advance reading copy. Even as the final copy-editing-proofreading-correction process is still going on, this early version is sent out to other authors who will, ideally, read it and give me blurbs. And yes, I got blurbs! Check them out on the “Books and Reviews” page of my website.

So why the Bog of Blah? I think it really was that deadly combination of copy editing, proofreading and cataloging. Even at the best of times, cataloging is 90% anal-retentive, passive-aggressive, rule-bound, nitpicking tedium, and 10% interesting classification questions. Most of the time it’s 99.9% nits. Being published also has its unavoidable and necessary lousy moments.

Cataloging is what I do to pay the rent. Writing is what I do for pleasure. It’s when the Day Job and the Creative Escape both involve fine-combing bloodsucking creepy-crawlies out of one’s hair that Despond appears on the horizon. If I were one of those two or three fortunate people who can earn a living writing fiction I’d probably welcome this once-a-novel louse-feast of the publishing process. As one of the editors at the recent Brooklyn Book Festival panel on “Authors as Editors” said, editing is a chance to use your “math brain” for a change. But when you already spend a significant part of your time every week grooming the other chimps, you really wish that, on your days off, you’d get to lie back and let someone else run their fingers through your fur.

At any rate, it’s over. Pride/Prejudice is moving inexorably toward its apotheosis as a published work. Meanwhile, the lice of cataloging are busy laying their eggs for tomorrow’s nitpicking. And I thought I’d share with you a selection of the pleasurable 10%, from the sublime to the ridiculous to the sophomoric.

First the genuine pleasures. Once in a great while I get to catalog something new. Not a book that’s so new (and usually, stupefyingly dull) that it hasn’t been cataloged before, but a subject that has only just been discovered. In other words, I catalog the printed work that discusses a discovery in the classification of zoology—taxonomy. Here’s a recent example: Anomaloglossus confusus, a new Ecuadorian frog formerly masquerading as ‘Colostethus’ chocoensis (Dendrobatoidea, Aromobatidae). OK, I admit that sounds pretty stupefying. But the point of it, what made it so much fun for me to work on, was that the authors had found this frog and decided that it was not, in fact a member of the known family of Dendrobatidae (poison dart frogs) but one of a whole new family, Aromobatidae. The authors got to name it, because they discovered it. When I was cataloging this monograph, looking up the new family name online, I was proud to see that the second author, Taran Grant, a scientist at the museum where I work, is now formally associated with this new taxonomic name.

Natural history is full of fascinating terms, and new species are being discovered all the time: there are side-necked turtles, whip scorpions and goblin spiders. There are dinosaurs who died in infancy (perinatal), leaving their little baby fossils to be unearthed eons later and analyzed for clues about their evolution: The perinate skull of Byronosaurus (Troodontidae) with observations on the cranial ontogeny of paravian theropods. There are “troglobitic” beetles and “troglomorphic” scorpions and even human “troglodytes”—cave dwellers all. (Cave fishes are referred to as “hypogean.”) Even this reluctant nitpicker has a certain soft spot for lice: the very first item I cataloged was: Sucking lice (Insecta, Anoplura) from indigenous Sulawesi rodents. And yes, if you’re wondering, there are lice that don’t suck. They’re called “chewing lice:” scientific term, Mallophaga.

Well, that’s about as cerebral as it gets. Most of the other pleasures are silly stuff, the kind of things that four-year-olds find hilarious, as do catalogers who’ve spent eight hours checking for missing semicolons and puzzling over whether a book is the proceedings of a named conference and is therefore entered under the name of the conference, or whether it’s just selected papers from an unnamed conference and requires a title main entry instead, or is perhaps simply a work of primary authorship and should have the main entry under the author, whose name is, naturally, John Smith…. Or, to quote from the 1958 version of The Fly: “Help me!”

For an example of a silly thing that’s also scientific, there’s the hemipenis, the generative organ of male squamates (lizards and snakes). Biologists find the hemipenis very useful in classification, as is evident in one of the all-time greatest titles in our library’s collection: The hemipenis of Philodryas Günther : a correction ‪(‬Serpentes, Colubridae‪)‬. Hemepenes (plural) come in pairs, and, according to Wikipedia, “Only one is used at a time, and some evidence indicates males alternate use between copulations … Often the hemipenis bears spines or hooks, in order to anchor the male within the female. Some species even have forked hemipenes (each hemipenis has two tips).” Oh, crikey!

At the end of the day, it just comes down to puerile, jackass-level humor. Like people’s interesting names. As someone with a weird last name of my own, I assure you I’m laughing with these people, not at them:

One group of names would make a terrific Regency romance:
Cyprian Broodbank is our tall, dark and … brooding hero, with a secret sorrow. I think he ought to be at least a baronet—Sir Cyprian Broodbank;

Antony J. Puddephatt and Richard J. Puddephatt. Hmm. Perhaps comic characters, like the Bates mother and daughter in Emma?

N. W. Rakestraw, initials only, so much scope for the imagination. He’s the anti-hero, the … rakish, of course, dashing and good-for-nothing scoundrel who entices our heroine (or hero, depending on just how bisexual this story is) but is ultimately rejected. Unless, of course, Sir Cyprian can tame Rakestraw and they live happily ever after. And what if Rakestraw is a woman? Why not a rakish heroine? I see a Georgian-era romp…

Then there are these individual, beautiful, wonderful finds:

Richard W. Blob, one of the editors of Amniote paleobiology : perspectives on the evolution of mammals, birds, and reptiles;

Boris L. Blotto, one of the authors of The amphibian tree of life;

George Robert Crotch (entomologist, specialist in beetles);

Silvester Diggles (ornithologist);

Finally, when a book on “deep drilling” includes authors named Fuchs and Suk; and when the title Radioactive dating has an author named Wänke—it’s time to go home.

If you want to look up any of these title or names I’ve mentioned, here’s the link to our public-access online catalog (OPAC): http://libcat.amnh.org/
martianmooncrabmartianmooncrab on September 27th, 2009 09:00 am (UTC)
I loved Cataloging, sigh.

but when you mentioned The hemipenis of Philodryas Günther, I cracked up, that explains why engines have to have Hemi's... snerk.

I once knew a German named Fulker...
ann_amalieann_amalie on September 27th, 2009 09:47 pm (UTC)
Well, you know, some people like all kinds of odd things ;) Some people actually like shopping, for example, or claim to...

I think I'm not really a cataloger by nature. Or at least I would have been happier in the days when the Library of Congress had two types of cataloging jobs: descriptive catalogers and subject catalogers. "Descriptive" sounds deceptively interesting, but it's the part I loathe. It's the proofreading, transcription, spelling, not-creative-at-all part.

Subject cataloging is what it says: deciding what the book is about, assigning appropriate subject headings, and classifying it. That's a job for a human being, not a machine (obviously, we're talking imho only here).

Nowadays, most cataloging work is of the descriptive kind. There's so much material to get through, and most of the subject headings are easy enough to figure out. One person does it all, which leads to my 99.9% dissatisfaction rate.

And also explains why I have to find my pleasures where I can...

Another term I came across that made me laugh was "outgassing," which makes me think of "I fart in your general direction" (from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, of course), but outsourced now to India...

And there was this delightful comment I came across in a book about lizards (speaking of smaller males): "An occasional buggery might be a small price to pay for the advantages of remaining within the large male's territory."

A footnote in: Lizards in an evolutionary tree : ecology and radiation of anoles, by Jonathan B. Losos, citing an article by R. Trivers: "Sexual selection and resource-accruing abilities in Anolis garmani," that ran in the journal Evolution in 1976.

It's interesting, btw, that lizards in general seem to engage in a great deal of same-sex activity. There are species where most of the reproduction is parthenogenic, females only, no males involved--and therefore producing mostly female individuals. There are a number of studies that refer to "bisexual" lizards--not in the sense of being attracted to both sexes, but as being unusual in having two sexes and reproducing in the "standard" m/f way :D

Now if you'd like to send me the rest of that limerick, I'm ready.
Gaedhal: WranglerPool (Gaedhal)gaedhal on September 28th, 2009 04:09 am (UTC)
That buggery comment seems to work with more than
just lizards!

ann_amalieann_amalie on September 28th, 2009 11:12 pm (UTC)
Ain't it the truth!

It's one of the things that keeps me "sane," so to speak, at my job--all the fun natural history factoids that have to do with sex or can at least provide amusing double entendres.

btw, you have the best collection of pictures/icons!
martianmooncrabmartianmooncrab on September 28th, 2009 06:49 am (UTC)
I like shopping for books and toys.. greeting cards... stationary supplies.. purple stuff..

I loved the challenges of cataloging, it made me stretch my trival quotient, and my sense of humor, there was that one book about the 1890's that refered to it as a history of the Gay 90's, and you can guess where that was miscataloged!

I hold a deep fondness for a description of amphibians who are "opportunistic feeders" myself..

ann_amalieann_amalie on September 28th, 2009 11:21 pm (UTC)
Oh, I like shopping for some things too. I'm sorry to always be such a "provoking" character. I like shopping for electronics and hardware--nuts and bolts--but these are things I rarely need, and of course shopping for a computer is usially a miserable experience because it means my old computer just died and the deadline for whatever it is I'm working on is tomorrow.

Yes, there are fun things about cataloging, as you've given an example--and that I was trying to show too. But so much of it seems to be interpreting those godawful AACR2 rules. I think anyone who can do that would make a good lawyer, and make a lot more money.

I like the trivia about natural history and other subjects. Some of the subject headings are so "creative." (I was always sorry they didn't authorize the term "Pleasing fungus beetles.") It's the punctuation, proofreading, spelling stuff I hate. I mean, Hell's bells!--every word-processing program in the universe eliminated the need to do that decades ago! My eyes and brain just don't process that any more. And do you remember entering diacritics on OCLC? May the gods eternally shit on whoever invented that cumbersome set-up.
martianmooncrabmartianmooncrab on September 29th, 2009 12:07 am (UTC)
remember entering diacritics on OCLC

and to smite them with my Anglo-American Cataloging Rules (2nd ed)
Gaedhal: B&JCrawling116 (Gaedhal)gaedhal on September 27th, 2009 07:24 pm (UTC)
Can't express how much I want to read this RIGHT NOW!

ann_amalieann_amalie on September 27th, 2009 09:50 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I do think this has been one of the longest pre-publication processes imaginable, but I'm also glad not to have been up against the "Zombies" right from the start.

There's still a long way to go--release date is January 26.