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I came across this line in one of Nina Bawden's works:

I have only once written a book, not to order, exactly, but to please a particular audience; a girl of seven who was, as she put it, 'a little bit blind'.

I'm trying to figure out what the writer means by 'not to order' in this context.

I'd appreciate any help!

EDIT: Here's a bit of context: The author mentions in the same extract that the girl suggested an idea for a book to be based on jewel thieves and a blind girl who does something brave. Also, the author writes that she's impressed by her ability to navigate through dark corridors even with limited eyesight. Both these factors formed the inspiration for the book.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

If something is "made to order", it means it is:

Made in accordance with particular instructions or requirements.

The interpretation of this particular question is tricky however. The three commas in the first part make it difficult to know without further context how to correctly parse it.

My interpretation:

The book in question was being refered to as being "[not exactly] written to order". In other words, it was not exactly written for one particular girl, although the author clearly had the girl at the forefront of her mind when she wrote.

Alternative interpretation (supplied by Paul Richter)

The author was not instructed or required to write it, she wrote it (for the girl) of her own accord.

The question is who she is saying she has made the book "to order" for.

Perhaps reading on in the book would clarify this.

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I would interpret 'not to order' here to mean that the author was not instructed or required to write it, she wrote it (for the girl) of her own accord. –  Paul Richter Jan 30 '12 at 12:16
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@Programming Enthusiast: I think you are probably best positioned to decide which is correct, since you have the context around the sentence. So I've appended Paul's interpretation to my answer. –  Urbycoz Jan 30 '12 at 15:20
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Urbycoz's first answer has this right. The "root" sentence would be "I have only once written a book to order"---i.e., written a book to someone's specifications. She clarifies, though, that even this wasn't exactly to order, but rather to please a particular audience (in some sense a milder version of writing a book to order). –  Henry Jan 30 '12 at 17:27
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What @Henry said. –  Marthaª Jan 30 '12 at 20:39
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I think the "exactly" is confusing some of us, yet we haven't explicitly defined its use. Let's do so. The sentence sounds like it could be a reply to the question "Have you ever written a book to order (i.e., because you were instructed to)?" And the answer is, rephrased: "No, I have never written a book because I was instructed to. But I have once written a book for a very similar reason: to please a particular audience." The phrase "not X, exactly" means "very similar to X, but essentially not X". –  Paul Richter Jan 31 '12 at 2:02
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If I had to give it a meaning without any research I would say that the book was written with no intent of getting sold, but just for a particular person. Not to order as in opposed to "Order now!". But that's just me.

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Could be. But I suspect not. You'd be more likely to say "to sell" or "to market" than "to order" in these circumstances. –  Urbycoz Jan 30 '12 at 15:29
    
@Eduardo: That's an interesting comment. I've added some information in my question. Perhaps that will make the context clear. –  Programming Enthusiast Jan 30 '12 at 15:44
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