Those small little killers, or, things in books that topple the edifice, or don't you wish you could make a quick call to the editor

I was just reading Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo, and I enjoyed it in a mild, no need to blog about it way. But all the time I was reading, I was remembering this review at By Singing Light, and in consequence was jarred every time I read "Alina Starkov," which should, if you are doing the Russian thing properly, be Alina Starkova.

And then I was browsing through the Guardian, and read Mal Peet's review of The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket, by John Boyne, and found this: "Yet, when reading a book, do you not sometimes wish you had been its editor? Had you been, in this case, you might have redacted solecisms such as the presence of foxes in Zambia or a marble sign "pinned" to a wall."

(At which point I had to look up solecisms--here. I don't think it's quite the right word, but I don't know a better one. Also I vaguely feel that there might be some sort of fox equivalent in Zambia).

But in any event, I then was reading a new book, not yet released, in which there were porcupines in Bronze Age Greece. Eek! I said to myself. Aren't porcupines New World? Turns out there's an Old World kind (example from the San Diego Zoo at right), and I feel better now about the book. Which I can now name--Gods and Warriors, by Michelle Paver. And thank goodness for the internet, says I--twenty years ago, and my only recourse would have been calling my mother.

However, nothing will erase the jarring shock that happened in a book I read a while back in which an Antiquarian book collector didn't know what "foxed" meant. How can you really look on the book favorably after that? Yet it is a small mistake, not worth mentioning in one's review...even though it had a very real effect.

Have you ever had this small mistake blotting the otherwise clear pages of a book thing happen to you?

(Edited to add: I am not, as readers of my blog might well have noticed, bothered by spelling mistakes, in large part cause I don't see them. My husband has just pointed out that there were three in this post. Sigh.)


  1. Oh, this happens to me all the time! Usually when authors don't realize that buildings have height restrictions in DC, so the tallest building (and it has a special exception) only has 12 floors. Also, government agencies aren't on The Hill.

  2. Yep. It's why I don't read a lot of historical fiction.

  3. YES. Definitely. And it makes me feel like I'm crazy and nitpicky, but...! I'm glad I'm not alone in this. :)

  4. Oh, this definitely happens to me and I mention it in reviews.

    (And now I freelance copy edit and work to prevent these errors.)

  5. This happened to me recently with a book that's got a lot of (well-deserved) buzz. It had to do with languages and only if you knew the country and languages in question would it throw you out of the narrative. I understood the choice for reasons of plot. In this case the writing was good enough that I consciously gave it a pass and kept reading (and was glad I did).


  6. Glad you managed to enjoy Shadow & Bone! I'm coming to the conclusion that I just need to avoid most Russian-based fiction. (Cat Valente is the major exception.)

  7. I speak Spanish, and nine out of ten times when Spanish is used in a book, it's used incorrectly, as if the writer just asked a friend who took high school Spanish or used an online translator. I roll my eyes and forge ahead. :)

  8. I have the same issue as Kate does: Spanish is so often used incorrectly in books. It seems like such an easy problem to solve, too!

  9. I try not to be too nitpicky on those types of things in books (unless it's SUPPOSED to be historically accurate). Most of the time I'll let it go and tell myself it's fiction and they can create their world however they want. It's the little grammar and spelling mistakes in finished books that get to me the most.

  10. I find it easier to forgive the odd lapse of grammer or spelling--that could be some strange error introduced in the copy editing process. But when a mistake makes me doubt that the characters are who the author says they are, or when it makes me think the whole world-building edifice might not be built on a solid foundation of knowledge, I get awfully skittish. The language thing bothers me less, because I don't know any others well enough...sigh.

    And I agree, Brandy, historical fiction is a minefield....

  11. Foxes in Zambia: That would be the bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis).

    Yes, of course I had to look it up after you mentioned it!!

  12. Hm, I often won't notice these things, but I have my own few mistakes I like to be annoyed about. Astronomy mistakes make me crazy (but, that was my major, so go figure).


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