No, there is no settling down with a good book and a cup of cocoa for those of us in the infoslinging trade, not by a long shot. We spend our days looking for how many people currently live in Barstow, California (21,119 total, according to the 2000 census) or finding out what the side effects of a new baldness cure are (it’ll grow hair, yes, but it will also make you impotent, thereby helping you get the girl and keeping you from doing anything with her once you’ve got her) or scanning reel after reel of microfilm for great-great-great grandma’s obituary because her family, who now live in Wichita, Topeka, and points west know that she died “sometime in the 1880’s” but can’t otherwise nail the date down and I don’t have an obituary index for any of the local papers because no one ever thought to do one. In short, reading books is not something I do a lot of these days, a good thing as I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading books. Having spent the day reading, writing, and sometimes doing arithmetic as well, when I get home the one thing I don’t want to do is read, write, or do arithmetic of any sort; I just want to sit in front of the television and let grossly overpaid people gratuitously insult my intelligence while I listen to the mildew spread over the unused portions of my brain.
But, as I said, and I’m sure you’re getting tired of listening to me say it, I’ve been reading a book this past week. I will spare you the author and title of this particular tome; that information is not very important in the overall scheme of things and I strongly suspect the author may dislike what’s happened to his book just as much as I do, more perhaps, since it’s his name on the front and his picture on the back. This limits his options to a strict regimen of flight or fight when dealing with the contentious reader. Most authors don’t like having to choose between fight or flight and I imagine this author is no different, being a historian confined year-round to the ivied covered halls of academia, a place and state of mind not otherwise conducive to the nurturing of the fight or flight response without having to stop every fifty yards to catch your breath, unless, of course, you have the ball, in which case a fifty yard run is pretty darn good, as it will definitely get you a first down and move you into scoring position.
But what is the learned professor to do when confronted with a reader made unhappy about shelling out some thirty dollars for the professor’s newest tome on the history of the nineteenth century tea trade with China, a ripping good yarn complete with sex, opium, clipper ships, and the Boxer Rebellion against Don King and his hair, if you believe the blurbs on the back. So you buy the book, only to discover that the publisher, in a fit of economy, decided to forego using proofreaders, copy editors, and the requisite editorial support staff and to print your book as is. I suppose it is too much to hope for in this day and age for publishers to actually read what they are printing, but you’d think that writers would not permit their publishers to make asses out of them by allowing their books onto the shelves of your local Borders or Barnes & Noble with spelling and grammatical errors that would embarrass the most orthographically challenged dyslexic schoolboy.
I read this book with growing disbelief, a disbelief caused not by some basic disagreement with the author’s central thesis, although the flaws in his central thesis are so obvious that it casts doubt not only on his conclusions but on his ability to link two coherent thoughts together, a skill not much in evidence in this essay either, I’m afraid, a textbook example of how the consumption of large amounts of caffeine can disorder even the most coherent mind. No, this disbelief is the stunned incredulity of an old Catholic schoolboy unable to believe that a professor at an American Catholic university could get away with so many misspellings without a nun whacking him across the knuckles with her ruler.
The much put upon reader must wonder if proofreading is so arcane an art, something on the order of translating War and Peace from Russian into Zulu and publishing the resultant text in Braille on children’s aspirin tablets or playing Mozart’s Requiem in waltz time with an orchestra of saws, cowbells, shotguns and kazoos, that publishers can no longer find and hire people capable of reading a simple English sentence and analyzing said sentence for spelling and grammatical errors. Typos fill every other page of this book like crabgrass and I wish someone would program computer spellcheckers to realize that discrete and discreet are not the same word and do not mean the same thing: if a man and another man’s wife remained discrete there would be no need for them to be discreet. Frankly, I think this sort of thing bespeaks a certain contempt for the reader, but that’s just my opinion.
I realize that proofreading a manuscript is literary scutwork unworthy of any English major worth their sheepskin, but the mass infestation of typos and homonyms in our texts demand that publishers implement stern measures to stem the spreading plague of misorthography. A solution, however, presents itself, but not here unfortunately; I could use a good solution, maybe with just a hint of vermouth and an olive. I don’t actually partake of such solutions, of course, but I like looking at them before I go get myself a Diet Pepsi. Just as we import guys named Manuel to do our manual labor, so should we import entire armies of proofreaders, spellcheckers, and editorial support staff, possibly from the Indian subcontinent. This new dispensation may take some getting used to at first, but I think the clarity of English texts are important and if they must come tasting slightly of curry then that is the price we will have to pay, unless we want to start teaching grammar in the schools again, and who wants to do that, right? As a subject, grammar is dull as dirt, unfortunately, and it does not promote the self-esteem of your young people, and isn’t that what education is all about anymore?