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The Little Things

I’m not perfect. I’m certainly not a perfectionist. I don’t even have any OCD tendencies (I’ve taken quizzes!). But, as a former copy editor, I do tend to correct mistakes (especially when watching television). It’s a habit. I bring this up because I’ve been bothered by things I’ve read in two books I recently had the opportunity to review. They’re somewhat little things, but I think someone should have checked on them.

Like I said, I’m a former copy editor. It was part of my job to check things. But my personality is also such that I’m not always very assertive (luckily, I worked with very, very talented writers and editors who made my job easier). A story that still bothers me: My boss had written the phrase “a tough road to hoe” in one of his columns. I knew it was “row to hoe,” but I figured, he’s the boss, maybe he wants to use “road” because he was talking about paths we take. I wasn’t really brave enough to ask the boss if he knew he had gotten it wrong. Silly on my part because he actually didn’t know it was “row” and was more than a little miffed when our magazine readers starting writing in to correct him. 

I learned that you should raise your voice and not be afraid to ask. I think that’s why I’m so bothered by two seemingly little things that so easily could have been checked in those books I reviewed. In one, the main character’s oldest sister spends a lot of time rehearsing for the school’s musical, in which she’s playing the female lead, and the hero complains that he’s tired of her singing “Oklahoma.” But the lead female – Laurey – doesn’t sing that song. Curly, the lead male, sings it at his and Laurey’s wedding supper. Yes, the the ensemble joins in and sings a bit with him, but Laurey doesn’t do much singing. And she never sings the lyrics that are used to illustrate how tired our hero is of his sister’s singing.  This is easy to check on YouTube, which has both the Hugh Jackman stage version and the earlier movie version with Gordon MacRae. So I’m left wondering if the editor of the book didn’t bother to check, the writer didn’t check because she wanted to use the iconic song regardless of who sings it, or if I care too much.

Similarly, in the other book, two kids mention that their researcher dad told them about the “duck and cover” bomb drills he used to participate in at school during the Cold War. The kids are about 11 years old and the book is contemporary. So, we have a math problem. Either the dad is in his 60s—because schools stopped doing such drills by the early 1960s--or the author just wanted to throw in this illustration of how the Cold War affected school children without thinking too much about when they actually happened. I think the dad is in his 30s, which means he would have gone to elementary school in the 1980s. No bomb drills. Even if he’s in his 40s and went to school in the 1970s, like I did, he wouldn’t have had any.  He’s certainly no older than that. This could have been easily rectified by having the kids say how their grandparents told them about such drills. But no, it was dad.

In case you’re wondering, I did not mention these errors in my reviews because … well, see that note above about me often not being assertive enough. (I could be wrong, right?) I did mention them in notes to the editors at the journal for which I wrote the reviews. My feeling is these are somewhat small errors and the book editors should have spotted them or questioned them. Or had their reasons not to. Maybe.


  1. Found your site through someone's link, so I'm new here, but I wanted to say "I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN." (yes, all caps for emphasis!). I hate it when the characters are supposed to speak Spanish and they only say one or two sentences in Spanish in the book and they are incorrect (in one book, they were actually Italian for pete's sake)! Not to mention the book of essays that came out where famous authors answered college essay application questions and one essay said that Princess Leia fought Darth Vader in her iron bikini. Nope, sorry, didn't happen. There was also an essay about the last lines of books and the author got the last line of "Speak" wrong (which is especially horrible because those are the first words the character actually speaks). Makes me wonder why the editors don't check those things. Anyway. Sorry. Long comment. Guess you touched a nerve. :-)


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