Post-printing book editors

I just read two great novels by Brad Smith (a Canadian, even Ontarioan, author): All Hat (which was made into an enjoyable movie as well), and Busted Flush. Two interesting novels with good stories, interesting characters, and some humour. Quite enjoyable reads.

The only distraction from this, and the motivation for this posting, was the penciled-in comments from one of my fellow library patrons. I didn’t think to write them down, which is unfortunate, but anybody who’s in Halifax can check these books out and experience the erudition (or lack thereof) for themselves.

Now, just to set the stage, I do notice printing, spelling and grammatical errors in books I read. I have seen homonym errors (using “sail” instead of “sale” for example) in real live books, bought with real live money. I have wondered (sometimes aloud) who might have been the cause of these mistakes – whether it’s the author or editor, or if the printers just like to mess with text for fun. I have noticed and wondered about all these things, so I can empathize with my fellow library patron to a certain extent.

I didn’t, though, in any of these cases, write and circle and draw lines in a book that didn’t belong to me. I didn’t inflict my observations on a disinterested third. I didn’t start a dialogue which had no chance of going anywhere (since the writer is unlikely to check the books out again, unless they’re curious to see if anyone responded).

This patron, you see, circled things that they though were errors, often adding questions or comments in the margin. Maybe it’s just me, but I was unable not to read these, even after the general quality and tenor of them was established to be low (quality) and shrill (tenor). For example:

  • Smith used the word “pedestrian” in the sense of “normal, average” (my thought), or “commonplace“. Our patron wrote “Does he mean plebian?”. You will, no doubt, note that this should have been “plebeian”. Anyhow, what we have here is someone who knows some off-the-stack words, but not less common meanings for common ones.
  • Smith used the US spelling of “cesarean,” as in a “cesarean section”. Our patron wrote something along the lines of “What the hell kind of editor can’t spell Caesar?” A better question would be, “What the hell kind of reader doesn’t realize that US spellings have been taking over everything since the invention of spell-check?” The patron never made similar comments about “color,” for example, so maybe they don’t know the “proper” Canadian spelling.

You get the idea. These were not isolated incidents, but rather a comment every few pages, mostly ill-founded and all irritating. They did, of course, find a couple of legitimate spelling/typing/printing errors as well, in amongst the ill-educated ranting. Well done, I suppose. Ultimately, these comments and notations were far more distracting and disturbing than the actual errors in the text (which were few and inconsequential).

I have been planning to get back to using the library after spending a ridiculous amount of money, over the past few years, on a lot of books I will never read again. As it happens, Smith is someone I may well return to with enjoyment, so I will probably pick up my own copies. Still, if I have to wade through the ramblings if very many more disturbed minds, I may have to give up this approach to the wild world of literature. There’s something about knowing that you’re dealing with a new book, soiled only by yourself. There’s something, too, about knowing that you won’t have to shake off the slime from the shallow end of the gene pool as you wade through a new book.