A woman I know stops reading a book if she finds a typo. It doesn’t matter how much of it she’s read. She could be several hundred pages into a book she’s crazy about and a single typo stops her cold.
She’d have made it as far as page 46 in my latest book.
As you know if you read it or have seen The Idaho Press’s advertisements for it, the book is a memoir. It’s about many of the things that comprise a life, but mainly it’s about growing up in a very different Boise of 35,000 people, playing in a rock band and my career as a reporter and columnist at The Idaho Statesman.
With the first printing a few dozen books short of being sold out and the jury out on whether to do another printing I can write about it without shamelessly promoting it. Who writes an article to promote a book that’s almost out of print? And it’s not really the book itself that’s today’s subject. Mostly I wanted to write about its typos – to explain to readers that it wasn’t cobbled together singlehandedly by a feebleminded geezer who couldn’t find his reading glasses and wouldn’t know a typo from a Bingo chip.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that is easier to miss than a typo in a book. Including the time spent writing it, I must have read the entire manuscript a dozen times or more, and parts of it more than that. Three other people read it, too, all of them smart, well-read individuals. I’d have sworn that there were’t any typos or other mistakes in the book, yet some horrifyingly obvious mistakes got by every one of us.
One of the more embarrassing was a wrong last name, specifically the wrong last name of the late Jim Morrison, lead singer for the 1960s rock group the Doors. I’ve played some of Morrison’s songs, known about him forever, and for a reason that is a complete mystery to me wrote Morrissey instead Morrison.
Morrissey? I’ve known plenty of people named Morrison, but to the best of my knowledge have never known a soul named Morrissey, or even heard the name before. What would possess me to write such a thing? It would be like writing John Lemmon or Paul McCartly.
One of the proof readers who painstakingly reviewed the manuscript was a teenager in the 1960s, is well versed in the music of the era and was horrified to learn that she missed such a glaring error.
That made two of us.
Some of the easiest typos to miss are words repeated that shouldn’t be. A textbook example is found at the bottom of the aforementioned page 46:
“It was far enough from the city proper that I’d fall asleep on the on the way home.”
That, at least, is understandable. The eye goes right over those sorts of things.
Less understandable, and arguably the most embarrassing mistake in the book, is a sentence about my late Aunt Nita and Uncle Edward. What makes it even more embarrassing is that it took a reader to bring it to my attention weeks after the book was released. Aunt Nita and Uncle Edward became Aunt Edward and Uncle Nita.
Aunt Edward? Uncle Nita? How could any of us, let alone all four of us, have missed that?
A mistake that jumped out the first time I held the book in my hands had to do with my mother’s name. A cutline accompanying her picture identifies her as Margaret Woodward.
Her name was Marguerite Woodward.
There are a lot of things I don’t know or may be a bit hazy on, but one thing I do know beyond any possible doubt is my mother’s name. There is no way on God’s Earth I would have called her Margaret.
So how did it happen? A good question. I’ve been working with Jeanne Huff, my Idaho Press editor, long enough to know she wouldn’t have changed it, so my best guess is that it happened somewhere in the publishing process.
It helps a little bit to know that no one escapes the typo curse and that some typos are laugh-out-loud funny.
One of my favorites was in a cutline on the front page of a weekly newspaper in a small town in Washington State. The town was so small that when its only church got a new minister after months without one, it was big news. Pictured on the front page were the new minister, his wife and their three sons.
Except that what should have been an “o” in “sons” was an “i.”
Not even bestsellers from major publishers are immune. Amor Towles’s “The Lincoln Highway,” for example. It was a No. 1 New York Times best seller, chosen by Time, NPR, The Washington Post, Barack Obama and others as a Best Book of the Year.
The porpoise notwithstanding.
The porpoise makes its unlikely appearance on page 456 of “The Lincoln Highway.” It splashed onto the page where Towles intended to write “purpose.”
The book was published by the venerable Viking Press, whose authors have included D.H. Lawrence, Sherwood Anderson, James Joyce, John Steinbeck and other great writers. It presumably has some pretty fair proof readers as well.
One of the most infamous typos, an omitted word, occurred in a reprint of the King James Bible. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” became “Thou shalt commit adultery.” It inspired the reprint’s enduring nickname, “The Wicked Bible.”
What could be responsible for such egregious errors finding their way past even the most conscientious proof readers?
I think it’s the devil.