or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reading Material

First of all, and apropos of nothing, is this video, the Irish-dance team of Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding, who (as the English say) take the piss out of their art form by performing in strait-jackets with their mouths duct-taped shut. Since parodying the rather stone-faced, arms-to-your-sides rat-a-tat format of Irish dance clearly wasn't enough, they created an equally percussive variant using nothing but their hands and arms.

If that doesn't bring a little joy to your day, then honestly, I don't know what will.


Jim and I just got back from another week in London: long story short, we got bumped from our flights last June and ended up with travel vouchers that we used to pay for another trip. It was awesome, because London is awesome.

I've read on the opera site Parterre Box of people being so disenchanted with a performance that they walked out during the first or second intermission, and I never could understand that. You've probably paid upwards of $150 for a ticket: could the opera really be so bad that you would actually just walk away? I always figured I'd stay just to try and get my money's worth, if nothing else, and maybe the whole thing would improve; you'd never know unless you hung around until the end. But now I understand, because we went to see a production of Hamlet at the National Theatre, and we left at the intermission. It wasn't terrible, although Jim thought it was: it just wasn't very good. Part of the trouble was our fault: we had made the huge mistake of booking tickets for the day we arrived, when we were tired and jet-lagged (it was the only performance at which we could get good seats), and Jim nodded off a few times while I actually couldn't focus my eyes for about twenty minutes. The real problem, though, was the production, which had been uninterestingly and confusingly modernized, with bad cuts--there were sequences that could easily have been cut but weren't, and lines that were cut that might profitably have been left in. Also, some of the actors couldn't project, at least not over the sound effects, with the result that if I hadn't known how the play opened, I would have had no idea what the guards were talking about.

Not repeating the mistake we made last time, in which we managed to pack an entire week's worth of clothing into a single carry-on bag and then discovered that if you buy one single thing then nothing will fit any more, which forced us to buy another suitcase less than a week into the trip, we brought much bigger suitcases, which were only half full when we left for London and full to bursting when we returned. (Staff weighed them at the train station on the way home from Halifax: mine was 50.65 pounds.) We bought a lot of books*, over a dozen**, and Jim bought a year's worth of shirts at Marks and Spencer, which used to have a very grandmum kind of feel but now has really excellent, well-made and attractive clothing; I bought a heavy jacket and a couple of light sweatery cotton things that actually fit. Also, black dress socks, the best I have ever owned, fourteen pairs.

Now, about those books. At the airport we each bought a book for the plane trip over: mine was "I Drink for a Reason" by David Cross, a comedian whose stand-up work I generally like. Here are a couple of sentences from the preface:

I like very much the idea that I'm writing a book and by extension am now a "writer," because let's be honest, no one considers sketch or stand-up "writing," even though of course it is. But writing a book, well, that puts me in the same rarified air as Voltaire or Sue Grafton or Tim LaHaye.

And I thought, oh, nice, a typo on the very first page of the book. Seriously: the first page. But "rarified", although it is not actually correct, is kind of sort of more or less accepted by some dictionaries as a variant on the indisputably correct "rarefied", so whatever. I let it pass.

And then, on page 18, this sentence:

That's one of those little things on the plus side of being an athiest, no conflicting rules within your prescribed religion in which you have to pick, and then justify, a side.

An actual bona fide typo. "Athiest". Athy, athier, athiest. Wouldn't you think that an atheist would be able to spell "atheist"? Wouldn't you think that someone along the way from Cross' fingers to the finished book might have at least run the text through a spellchecker? Wouldn't you think that even if the hardback somehow made it onto bookstore shelves without ever having passed beneath the eyes of an editor of some sort, the paperback edition of the book might at least have been scrutinized?

But that is just the start. The book is littered with mistakes--contaminated with them. Typos, grammatical errors, flat-out mistakes, you name it. If you aren't David Cross or don't work for the company that published "I Drink for a Reason", you can probably skip right to the last few sentences, because what follows is a list of the mistakes I flagged, and it may not be very interesting if you haven't read the book, but I am just that sort of completist.

Page 21: There are few greater proponents of absolute, improvable hucksterism than psychics. Should be "unprovable".

Page 22: Half of the planet doesn't and hasn't celebrated "Magick Day" for the last two thousand years. Should be "doesn't celebrate and hasn't celebrated".

Page 25: "psylium" should be "psyllium.

Page 30: "for all their worth" should be "for all they're worth".

Page 49: "less then". Seriously.

Page 55: Whoopi Goldberg's name misspelled twice as "Whoopie Goldberg". At least he's consistent.

Page 65: "Antartica". Which, I am disgusted to note, my spellchecker doesn't even flag as incorrect. It is, though.

Page 82: In the guise of their public persona, they have never made a genuine apology, or, having the valuable benefit of hindsight, changed their position about a polemic event unless it was cajoled by some vague, begrudging idea of propriety. I don't quite know what Cross means by "polemic" in this context, unless it's "controversial", and in any event there are clearer ways to express the idea than this badly written sentence, which should have received a few slashes of an editor's red pen, unless Cross has, as Bret Easton Ellis was said to have had, a no-editing clause in his contract, which is about the only way I can explain the barrage of mistakes. But there are more!

Page 87: a heroically long and convoluted sentence that begins with It should be ascribed with such physical characteristics as... (what? "should be ascribed with"?) and ends with ...a much different, albeit as equally beautiful, heaven resembling the biblical Golan Heights ("albeit as equally beautiful"?). Another candidate for the red pen.

Page 93: "genetalia". Oh, honestly.

I'm kind of running out of steam here, so let's quicken the pace. On page 105, a misplaced apostrophe, as far as I know ("toy's", which could be deliberate, but probably is a mistake, and if the reader can't tell, it should be fixed). Page 111, a cock-up in parallelism ("wants, hopes, and actually prays for": one "for", two, or three?). Page 145, "belay" used where "betray" was meant, and how does a mistake like that even happen? Page 186, Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds, misspelled "Aeolis", which is flagged by auto-correct and would have been caught by any spellchecker or any editor who has ever read any Greek mythology. And some other things which I flagged as, if not completely wrong, then at least clumsy and in need of some discussion and probably correction.

Maybe Cross is just a bad speller--that's no crime--but I reiterate that it is quick and easy and free to run your copy through a spellchecker before you hand it over to the publisher, and how can it possibly be that this book obviously got no editorial oversight whatever through a hardcover edition and then a subsequent paperback? In the acknowledgements at the back of the book, Cross jokingly refers to "the editorial staff at The National Review" and thanks "[e]veryone who priff-read this," which actually kind of pisses me off, because this is a book that wasn't priff-read, or even proof-read, which means I gave money to someone who apparently doesn't give a damn about his readers.

Anyway, there you go, Grand Central Publishing. Not guaranteed to be complete (I read most of it on two airplanes), but at least guaranteed to be correct. Get on it for the next edition, will you?

*I had been vaguely thinking of buying a Kindle: we saw so many people reading them in the airports, on the planes, and on the subway. They sure seemed like a practical idea after we lugged all those books home. But then I checked and discovered that most of the books we'd bought weren't available in the Kindle format, so it's probably just as well that I didn't invest in one.

**You want to hear something weird? I had read good reviews of Derren Brown's latest book, Confessions of a Conjurer, which was published just a couple of weeks ago. Early on in our trip, I had leafed through a paperback copy in some bookstore, probably Waterstones but maybe W.H. Smith, but decided not to get it right then. When a couple of days later I found his first book, Tricks of the Mind, I bought that and then tried to get his newer book, too, but could only find the hardcover, anywhere. I looked everywhere and was beginning to think I had just imagined the paperback version, somehow; nobody had it. Finally, on our last day, literally, Jim found it in the W.H. Smith in Gatwick Airport, and of course I bought it immediately. When I got home, I went online and discovered that the hardcover had been published on October 14th, and that the paperback isn't due out until April 14th, 2011. How can this be? How can bookstores have a book that isn't supposed to exist for another seven months?

Books, by the way, are much cheaper in the UK than they are in Canada. Huge difference. I paid £16.99, or under $29, for a massive book called "London: The Biography", and the Canadian price stamped on the back--it has both the UK and Canadian prices, for some reason--is $42.


Post a Comment

<< Home