Monday, June 6, 2016

I’m not perfect, but…

(This is a bit of a rant.)

As a writer, I have just one set of tools to use in my work: my words and the language in which they are found.

Which words I choose, how they’re used, how they’re assembled, how they’re combined, which rules I adhere to slavishly, which rules I deliberately bend or even break…. These are the tools that I have—that any writer has—to use to surround a reader with the story and entice them inside. When that happens, when that siren song is successful, a reader can become totally submerged in the story, so much so that they never want to leave.

So it bothers me to stumble across the sloppiness of other people. When I, as a reader myself, want to be submerged but I’m brought up short by someone else’s carelessness. It could be the author, the editor, the typesetter, the I-don’t-know-whom, but SOMEBODY has goofed up, and it throws me right out of the book!

I’ll give you just two examples.

“[the hedgehog] was very prickly and riddled with flees.”
The Mermaid Garden by Santa Montefiore, published by Simon & Schuster, 2011
No, the hedgehog was “riddled with fleas.”

“The boat moved with a nauseous, relentless rhythm.”
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, published by Amulet Books, 2016
No, the boat itself wasn’t feeling sick (“nauseous”); it was causing sickness in its passengers (“a nauseating, relentless rhythm.”)

Things like this bother me because all of the people involved get paid—and get paid real money—to do their jobs correctly. And it’s not like they are being asked to design a skyscraper or pilot a cruise ship. This is not (to use two very overused clichés) “brain surgery” or “rocket science.” They accept their jobs with the understanding that they can and will perform those jobs well. And then a lot of money is spent creating and publishing a book. (One source says that the total cost of publishing the first printing of a typical hardback book can be as high as $250,000.) And then, for as long as physical copies of that book continue to exist in the world—for multiple decades—the mistakes that are in it are out there, confirming just how lazy or ignorant someone was who was supposed to help make that book look good, but also—and even worse—spreading that ignorance to other people, people who believe, rightly or wrongly, that what a person reads in print has to be correct. This is especially bothersome for things like the “nauseous, nauseating” example, above, since that mistake is in a Young Adult book, and now tens of thousands of young people can go through the world forever misusing those terms with confidence.

It makes me very angry and very sad at the same time, and I have to ask: Doesn’t anybody read these things before they’re published? I don’t mean merely cast their eye over them; I mean actually read them.

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