Friday, August 20, 2010


I've been musing on the different meanings of "proof." David Auburn's masterful play, Proof, tees up two of these meanings. Is the astonishing, original mathematical proof at the center of the play really the work of the socially awkward Catherine instead of her dead father, who was a recognized mathematical genius? And if so, where is Catherine's proof that she's the author?

In a high school play, my nephew Mathew played Hal, the math graduate student who is drawn to Catherine but doubts her word. Mathew is a subtle actor and knows the play well, but when he received "Proof" as his challenge in a family game of charades the other night, he chose to act out a detective seeking proof at the scene of a crime instead of mimicking a professor writing a proof on the blackboard. Maybe the "incontrovertible evidence" meaning of proof has more resonance.

Then there's proof as a standard measure of alcoholic concentration, which comes to mind because my father-in-law's 87-year-old companion Randie has been fixing the drinks for happy hour all week, and she has a rather long pour.

And then there's a book proof, which is an impression taken from the press during the process of printing--or in these days, a pdf of the latest, most up-to-date, almost-ready-for-the-printer draft. This weekend, I'll be poring over the fourth proof of Lost in Lexicon, checking commas, fractions, indents, and details of illustration one last time. I read the book in full twice last week, checking proof #3.

I have to confess it's a great relief that I still like the book after reading it so closely so many times in quick succession. I wonder if authors ever completely lose faith in their work at this point. i can picture a finicky and self-conscious author flinging all the pages away while screeching that they he never wants to see those stupid words again.

I don't feel that way. Next week Lost in Lexicon goes to press at last, and a lifetime dream will be fulfilled.

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