In My Bad Books

Reading & Writing

I love reviewing books – you get to read a huge selection of terrific novels you’d never otherwise know about. I’ve discovered a large number of good new authors this way. Just lately, though, there seems to have been an equally large explosion of truly lousy writing. I mean stinking, reeking, Bulwer-Lytton level, semi-literate trash. One book I opened this contained the following line; ”Help’ he screamed aloud, silently, through gritted teeth.’ Another had ‘In Manhattan in spring, love blossoms. And sometimes it explodes.’ And another. ”You’re joking,’ he guffawed, cocking a brow at her.’

These, I must stress, are not from the slush pile. They are finished hardback British novels, and I would like to think that such appalling writing would never grace the pages of a US book. How did they ever get past their readers? Conversely, our Campaign For Real Fear has shown what an incredible wealth of genuine talent there is out there – but many of the first-time entrants have yet to be published.

Maura McHugh and I will shortly be back with a full report on the contest, and its outcome. And of course, the winners.

8 comments on “In My Bad Books”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    I suspect there is “no time” for proper reading. Or possibly the reader of that first example is still in convulsions on the office floor. Trust me, the problem is not just in Britain. The US is just as, if not more, guilty. And don’t get me started on spelling and word droppage. (Is that a word?) Perhaps the editing is left to the authors, although the number of authors thanking their editors would indicate otherwise.

  2. It’s not even just novels. Editing, period, has gone to pieces… according to a review of an academic book on pop I saw last year, the manuscript had gone past x number of eyes at the publisher without anyone noticing half a dozen references to ‘Emminem’ and his good friend ‘Eminnem’…

  3. Brian says:

    As a person who is not at all involved in the publishing industy but who read many books I would certainly agree that editing has gone down hill in the last year or so. As recent examples I have just finished reading William Dalrymple’s “Nine Lives” and “The Blaze Of Obscurity” by Clive James. Both to my great surprise had spelling errors and the James book had a couple of paragraphs that my eyes stumbled over and in rereading them I could see that they were clearly cut and pastes that had gone wrong but not picked up by the editor. These books were published by Bloomsbury and Picador, publishers from whom I once would never have anticipated errors in the final texts.

    Upon examination most, if not all, of the spelling errors are not actually such but are clearly finger fumbles on the keyboard making nonsense words as adjacent keys are struck in error or missed altogether.

  4. Steve says:

    When you read these……was it a dark and stormy night?

  5. Helen Martin says:

    I would remind us all that editions of the Bible printed centuries ago, when editing was a serious craft, came out with errors. Shakespeare plays had several edits before errors were gone and 20th century writers have had later editions with errors corrected. Remember “1066 and all That” with the errata note “for pheasant read peasant throughout”. There is no excuse, however, for the gibberish paras and the clumsy typing.

  6. I.A.M. says:

    There is a difference between ‘editing” and “proof reading”. The examples cited by The Talented Author are errors made by the editor, who should have placed a comment in the margin of those works early on, something along the lines of “what in blazes do you have to justify this nonsense?” The examples cited of mis-spellings ad typos are faults of the proof readers not catching things, but the way budgets are in the publishing world, the proof readers aren’t actually there to catch things becuase they’re no longer employed to do it.

    Now… the “errors” in the Bard’s plays, are often directions to the actors about the delivery of lines. The First through Third Folios use of ‘wrong spelling’ often pointed the way to the accent of the character, the sort of person they were, or the specific fashion through which a word was enhanced when spoken. This last is best exemplified in Henry IV, Part ii (I think it was, but am not 100% sure), where in one character said of another “He is a smoooth man”, which appears to be a typographical error, but which perfectly described the actions of the character earlier in the scene and got a laugh when said with a long “oo”, no doubt. There are times when LoL-speak actually does a better job than “correct English”. Not often, but sometimes.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    I defer to the Illustrious Publisher about editing and proof reading and appreciate the reminders about Shakespeare’s work. The lack of proof reading, while no doubt economically necessary, is greatly to be deplored. Frankly, it results in the most annoying text. I have actually resorted to proof reading markings in books! Once even in a library book! Why should the next reader have to translate nonsense when I could just mark it up? The most wonderful editing in the world does not make up for the lack of decent proofing.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    And I am reading “The Code Book” by Simon Singh who wrote “Fermat’s Enigma.” In writing about Michael Ventris he says “When he began his schooling he went to Gstaad in Switzerland and became fluent in French and German. Then, at the age of six, he taught himself Polish.”
    Please tell me that this is an editing problem. Did the writer have another section in there about Nentris’ Swiss education, a section the editor decided was unnecessary, or did the prodigy go to Gstaad at age two so that the “then” in that sentence would make sense? He was a prodigy but that’s ridiculous.

Comments are closed.