Friday, August 14, 2009

Readers, Have You Ever Had This Happen?

So...

Has it ever happened that you were reading a book, a brand new hardcover, not a review copy, and you suddenly come upon a jarringly misplaced sentence? I'm talking about a sentence that changes the whole scene that you have just read, an alternative to the action just described, a version that was obviously considered at one point but was left in the book only because of some really poor editing.

That happened to me this afternoon with a book I just started reading. About 50 pages into the thing, a murder mystery that had completely sucked me in to its story, I suddenly did a literal double-take. I had to re-read the paragraphs three times to make sure that I was really seeing what I thought I was reading.

Now I can't get that blip out of my mind and it's causing me to think less of the book. I know that's not fair, and I suspect I'll be over it by the time I finish the book in a few days, but it sure bugs me right now.

Are editors doing a poorer job than they did in the past? Or do we perhaps become better readers over time as the number of books we have read keeps adding up? This is a bit like watching a movie that you really like until you suddenly recall what a jackass the leading man is in the real world? The movie becomes a bit tainted at that point. Silly, I know. You don't have to say it.

20 comments:

  1. I hate that! I once took a highlighter and red pen to a book because the whole thing was so bad! It drives me crazy.

    And here I am, a fantastic editor, and no one will hire me. ;)

    I hope it doesn't ruin the book for you, though. That'd be a shame since you were liking it so much.

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  2. Think how many people - aside from the author, who should curl up and die of shame - claimed to have read that book before it went for printing. All these soi-disant publishing pros just not doing their jobs. And the level of ignorance amongst some of these people is simply stunning. I was particularly struck by the award winning Tenderness of Wolves where the author - and an entire publishing house - seemed to believe that "this mortal coil" is something which one can be shuffled off and, beyond that, that Mary Shelley was a maiden lady.

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  3. I have not come across this one --it is pretty bad, but I just started reading Richard Russo's new book That Old Cape Magic, and it's an awesome story, but there are sevral incorrect words I've come across already and it is annoying.

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  4. This kind of thing drives me crazy, too. I'm reading a book sent to me for review that does still appear to be a nice, new hardcover copy - definitely not an ARC. About midway through, I noticed a glaring error in which one of the characters' sons suddenly has the same name as a different character's dead brother...decidedly not the same name that he had when first introduced.

    Other than that, the book seems fine and is quite enjoyable, but somebody really must have been asleep at the switch to miss that one. Or else I'm a brilliant editor and am really in the wrong line of work. ;-)

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  5. I read a book once where there was an entire chunk of pages missing! Ticked me off.

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  6. Typos and bad grammar always leap out at me when I'm reading- and always make the book feel like less in my hands. It's really annoying, actually. I've found typos in more new books I've read lately than ever before. Never a whole sentence that was left wrong, though.

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  7. I read a book once where a character's eye color changed from blue to brown. Small but annoying.And easily avoided, as there's really no reason to reference eye color more than once.

    My most recent annoying error was when an item of clothing turned into a handbag (or vice versa) in one short sentence. That could be blamed on the translator. I had already been thinking the novel was a POS, and this didn't do anything to redeem it.

    Oooh no...I'm going to be reading The Tenderness Of Wolves soon. I wish I didn't know about that mistake.

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  8. It's even more annoying when you're the author so there's no one else to blame.

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  9. Annie, I often think of you when I find a particularly irritating goof on the part of some editor...not kidding. :-)

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  10. Anonymous, I wonder what their annual reviews read like when it comes time to decide whether or not they deserve a raise for the coming year? ...would make interesting reading.

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  11. Diane, I think, too, that the more "serious" a book is, the more irritating it is to find misspellings and the like.

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  12. Meagan, I read a review copy just a while ago that had word-choices in numerous sentences...two adjectives, two names, two nouns, etc. It appeared that the editor was either suggesting a change or the author was asking the editor for an opinion. I can see how some mistakes would slip through in a case like that one unless everyone were very, very careful (as they should be). It drove me nuts, as a reviewer, and really slowed me down.

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  13. Factotum, I had that happen, too, at about the 3/4 point of the book. Barnes & Noble exchanged it for a fresh copy but I had to drive all the way out there to get one...kinda irritating.

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  14. Jeane, that goes back to my original question. Are we becoming better readers over time (practice, practice, practice) or are editors becoming less skillful?

    This case was really weird - one sentence that completely altered a scene and changed the relationship between two of the book's main characters.

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  15. Suzi, I think it does start to "cheapen" a book if there are more than one or two obvious errors, be they typos or factual, especially when a book was already "on the fence" as to its quality.

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  16. Brian, I can only imagine how an author would feel to spot that kind of thing in a newly released first edition of his work. Heck, I cringe when I go back and read some of what I say here and find things misspelled or used incorrectly, so it must be awful for you folk.

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  17. misplaced word, misspelled word, bad punctuation, yes.

    An entire sentence misplaced, no.

    That's really something.

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  18. What was so odd, C.B. is that the errant sentence described a completely different result for the scene being described. I think two different scenarios were being considered and poor editing left in one sentence of the rejected scenario. It was a first for me.

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  19. I think it is more of a newer phenomenon. I don't remember such bad mistakes in my earlier books and I have always been a close reader. Recently, I started Royal Blood and had to put it down because the mistakes were driving me nuts. Like in one scene - a servant gave the main character a "portmanteau" to put over her nightdress. What, he draped a piece of luggage over her shoulders? What the author meant was "manteau" which is a cloak. There were mistakes like that throughout the book, which was a shame because it was very eruditely written. I wanted to send either the editor or the author a dictionary!

    Erin in Boston

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  20. I've noticed it more than ever, too, Erin, and I have to wonder what's happening. Have publishers cut back on proofreaders?

    Your example is a great one. Thanks for the smile.

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