A well-known local personality wrote a book of his memoirs a few years ago. He was an acquaintance of mine, and I delighted in watching him promote his tome with much fanfare, loads of publicity and a bunch of local TV and radio appearances. I was thrilled when I received my copy.
Then I read it.
From nearly the first page came a torrent of misspellings, grammatical missteps and messed up punctuation. The book contained more slips than a lingerie company; more errors than a blindfolded shortstop; more boo boo’s than a ghost convention. (I attended analogy school for a semester.)
When the author of the book finally asked me, “What’d you think?”—I decided to be brutally honest. “It was absolutely terrific,” I stated boldly.
He replied quickly, “You didn’t notice all the mistakes?”
“What mistakes? “ I asked with typical candor.
“Oh, come on,” he said. “You had to notice that there are more slips than a lingerie company; more errors than a—“I cut him off. “Yes, “I admitted. “I did notice one or two.”
He said, “Well, throw that first edition away. I hired a real proofreader this time, so there’s a new version coming out in a couple of weeks—error free.” At least in book publishing, sometimes life does offer do-overs.
But writing a column—such as this one—does not generally afford the same redemption. A faux pas in newspaper print or on-line will live on—uncorrected, unfixed, unforgiven.
Oh sure, the publisher can offer the readers a follow-up apology: “The editors and staff of this paper are sorry that our columnist made a blunder in his writing last week. We are as embarrassed and appalled as you are. In the future, we will try to hire smarter columnists.”
Yes, thanks to more than one reader, I have been made aware of a goof I served up in last week’s column—made especially embarrassing, because I knew better.
In the shameful column, I referred to the great American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark—as Meriwether Lewis and James Clark. (My first three drafts were even worse, variously calling the man Dick, Roy—and Petula Clark.)
It provides little solace to know that typos and flubs happen all the time—even in time-honored and highly popular writings.
A famous example is Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe, wherein the hero is said to have had taken off all his clothes, then had swum out to a shipwreck, and then gone “to the bread room and filled my pockets with biscuit.” Since Crusoe was nude, it’s hard to figure out where such pockets might have been located. Perhaps he was both man—and marsupial.
In one of the Harry Potter books, critics point out that two of the main characters are said to be in “a corner of the room”—even though the room was earlier described as “circular.” Still, it seems somewhat picky to quibble about stories where magic wands and flying on sticks is considered normal.
Even Shakespeare apparently screwed up a bit. (I’m talking about William Shakespeare, not James.)
In one famous scene, Hamlet and his dad meet up at precisely midnight. They talk for just a moment or two—and then Dad says he has to leave because the sun is coming up. Time does fly, it seems—especially on the stage.
Speaking of time, there is a clock striking the hour in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar—a play set in Ancient Rome, well before mechanical timepieces were around. Shakespeare probably figured, “Nobody will notice. Besides, this is a play. And who can hear a sundial?”
By the way, did I mention that the first edition of my friend’s mistake-riddled memoir (referred to earlier) is actually selling for very high prices on e-bay right now? Apparently it’s akin to the way certain postage stamps with upside-down images or misprints suddenly become quite valuable because of their rarity.
So if you do have a copy of last week’s erroneous column, hang on to it. It could make you wealthy. You can thank me later.
Meanwhile, from now on, I promise these columns will always uphold the highest standards—including every small detal.
You may count on it.