Of Melville, McMurtry and redevelopment

Jim Strodtbeck, Ontario’s redevelopment director, is retiring, it was announced at Tuesday’s council meeting. Which makes this as good a time as any to share a Strodtbeck story.

I know he’s a reader; once or twice I’ve bumped into him on his lunch hour, eating solo and reading a book, as I ate solo and read a New Yorker.

A few weeks ago, he approached me before a council meeting, opened his briefcase and handed me Larry McMurtry’s new memoir, “Books,” about his life as a bookstore owner and bookhunter. Strodtbeck said he hadn’t known who to give the book to once he’d finished but then thought of me. “I’ve marked a particular section for you,” he said slyly.

The back flap was used to mark a page in which McMurtry talked about finding a rare copy of “Moby-Dick.” (You may recall that I read the book earlier this year.)

As McMurtry tells it, the British edition of “Moby-Dick” had always been published in three volumes, and a certain editor, one Charles Reade, had been tasked with reducing the novel by two-thirds to fit into one book. The copy McMurtry viewed was Reade’s working copy, the book he had marked up with passages for deletion.

Such deletions began on the first page.

“Charles Reade was not a man to be intimidated by a mere American classic,” McMurtry wrote.

“He began his editorial work by drawing a bold line through ‘Call me Ishmael.’ ”

Now that’s editing.

Thanks for the laugh, Jim, and enjoy retirement.

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