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John Wilson


Stranger in a Strange Land

Remembering Carol Thiessen

Did you feel your blood pressure rising when Adam Gopnik's New Yorker piece on The Matrix Reloaded, citing influences, referred to Philip K. Dick's novel, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Erdrich? (It's Eldritch, of course—and whatever happened to the fanatical fact-checkers?) Do you sense a fit of apoplexy coming on when you encounter a run-on sentence in The New York Times? Do you have to restrain yourself from interrupting a dinner conversation to explain the distinction between disinterested and uninterested? If you answered yes to all three, you have the makings of a copyeditor. You don't think that such matters are the province of pedantry; you care about getting things right.

In more than 20 years in publishing—including a long stint doing reference books, where the demands of accuracy are especially stringent—I have been fortunate enough to work with several outstanding copyeditors. But the best of them all was Carol Thiessen, who reigned as Christianity Today's "Style Czarina" (as my friend and former colleague, Mickey Maudlin, wrote in a tribute) from April 1979 until her retirement in the fall of 1999, and who also served as the copyeditor of Books & Culture from its debut in 1995 to the issue of November/December 1999, though doing so meant an increase in her already heavy workload. Carol is on my mind because word just came of her death from liver cancer, on May 27, near her retirement home in Florida.

Carol was much more than a copyeditor at CT. Her official title was "administrative editor," which hinted at her relentless determination to keep the magazine on schedule—a job not made easier by writers and editors whose awareness of deadlines was less visceral than hers. She was in charge of the Letters section, which she managed with a keen sense of fairness, and she was very much involved in CT's coverage of the arts. (The radio in her office was tuned to a classical station—for many years she led the orchestra at her church, and her knowledge of music was ...

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