An author friend sent me the bound printer's proof of her forthcoming book for me to read in advance. On the back cover, she'd pasted cutouts of several blurbs that had already been written about the book and published in various journals and blogs. It was a palimpsest of blurbs-- I could read only parts of the ones from before that were now covered by fresh blurbs. I started reading the manuscript: it was fantastic. The typesetting was dark and clear at first, then got more blurry and faded towards the end. Although the bound copy felt slender and light in my hand, I noticed that the book was a total of 647 pages long. I was impressed by the new paper technology that made this physical slightness possible, and intimidated by my friend's capacity for profilic output, a quality I completely lack in myself.
Then I was walking down the hallway of a place that looked just like the building of my old public high school. I was walking with Julia, another writer friend, and it was understood that we were headed towards the principal's office, where we would be interviewed in turn by the publisher of the forthcoming book about our critical impressions so far. I was nervous about this meeting, but Julia looked calm and collected, just like she always does; she had her copy of the printer's proof along with a stack of intelligent, insightful notes from her reading. I wondered if I should have gone to grad school, so that I could be professional and confident like her.
The publisher sat behind a heavy oak desk. She had a reputation for writing wild, ludic, ribald novels, but here she looked stern and severe, just like a high school principal. After interviewing Julia, she called me into her office and asked for my oral book report. I started to offer my impressions, then realized that I'd only gotten halfway through reading the manuscript before running out of time. I stumbled badly over my words. "And just how far did you get exactly?" the publisher demanded to know, peering at me over her disapproving spectacles.