Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Good Thief's Guide to a Shelf of Grammar Books

Having spent time in Amsterdam last summer, I was excited to find a copy of Chris Ewan's The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam. However, instead of getting caught up in the story, I got caught up in examples of nonstandard usages. In the second paragraph, the narrator states, "if I was a lesser writer..." But the statement should be contrary-to-fact, and hence, the verb form should change accordingly. The narrator should have said "If I were" unless he wanted to imply that he was indeed a lesser writer, which was probably not the intended implication. Granted, it's possible that Ewan didn't want the narrator to sound sophisticated. However, since the character is an expert locksmith, etc., I suspect this was an oversight on Ewan's part rather than at attempt to show character.

On the same page the narrator takes a twenty minute stroll, which implies that the stroll is a "twenty stroll" and also a "minute stroll;" the narrator means that it was a "twenty-minute stroll." He repeats the same problem when mentioning the "ten minute bicycle ride" by omitting a hyphen between ten and minute.

Both of these items, though small, accosted me on the first page.

On the third page, I learned that the narrator "was stood before a beer tap at a bar." "Was stood?" Was standing, perhaps. Or had already drunk so much that someone had physically stood him up before the bar to prevent him from falling back down.

Either way, these features of Ewan's language distracted me. It's easy to overlook a mistake when reading proofs. but to have this many in the first chapter is an indication that more lurk nearby.

Next time.... I'll cover just a few of those.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

When I Knew I Had a Problem

A few years ago I picked up a book by Lisa Scottoline. I knew she was famous and had a bunch of best sellers. I figured she must be a good writer. I like laywer-style mysteries anyway, so I sat down for a fun read.

I found so many editing mistakes in the first three pages that I couldn't stand to go further. Even though I had paid for the book, not only did I not read it, but I gave it away. Who could possibly support such a monstrosity?

I tried to reason: Could Scottoline have submitted a manuscript with countless mistakes? Or did the mistakes all happen in the typesetting? Either way, shouldn't the author or the editor have caught such egregious flaws in simple grammar use? The examples weren't the ones that grammarians wrestle with. They were simple things such as adding a comma before direct address as in Hey, Lisa!

I was dumb-founded. Did the demands of being a popular author dictate that Scottoline write with such speed that accuracy be overlooked?

I didn't know these answers. I only knew that I couldn't possibly read the book or any others by the same author, perhaps others by the same press. I was indignant that no care had been taken to produce the book and that the bad editing might serve as a role model. Scottoline has continued to write books, but I haven't picked up any others.

I wish I could say I never made a grammar, error. Not true. I make plenty. When I'm lucky, it's my mom who catches them. My first published novel, Amirosian Nights, has a few typos too. These were indeed caused by the typesetting, and even though I proofread a couple of times, these small few items slipped by me. Such accidents happen and are probably unavoidable. But they should at least be avoided.

I hereby invite you to share laments about other mistakes published in books, whether fiction or non-fiction. Probably the mistakes were unintentional--a simple matter of overlooking a detail. But if you're like me, being able to let off steam is the best possible solution.