A NEW EDITION AND MY THOUGHTS ON TYPOS
My first book, Hugo Ball and the Fate of the Universe, is now available in a New, Deluxe, Super Fancy Second Edition. What this means is that it’s the same book with an updated back cover containing some of the lovely reviews and blurbs people wrote for me. It’s also available through more platforms, such as Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, bookshop.org, and this Taiwanese website I’d never heard of until a few minutes ago. I fixed a few typos, too.
I’ve been thinking a lot about typos lately. Namely why my own typos bother me so much but whenever I read someone else’s work and it contains a typo, I forget about it after a few minutes and move on with my life. Well, most of the time I move on. Last week, I was on the treadmill at the gym reading Louise Erdrich’s The Antelope Wife and I nearly fell off when I encountered the word “electic” being used to describe a group of cousins at a wedding party. The reason I almost fell was because I was too preoccupied with the possible existence of a word like “electic” to properly keep pace with the rubber mat rotating beneath my feet. Was this a misspelling of “eclectic” or simply a word I didn’t recognize? There are a surprising number of words I should know but don’t, so the latter possibility loomed large as I finished my workout.
Turns out, electic is not a word. What I’d read was simply a typo. Granted, it was a typo in a novel by a major author published via one of the Big 5, but at the end of the day, it was just as much a typo as any typo you’d encounter in a blog or indie lit mag.
It was reassuring to know that even the big dogs in the game have books with typos. The only reason their books usually have few to no typos probably has less do to with them being perfect than it does with the fact that their publishers have droves of proofreaders whose sole job is to make sure a MS is nigh perfect before it goes to press. Self-publishers and indie publishers don’t usually have droves of proofreaders, so that’s probably why their titles have more typos. Forty proofreaders are going to catch more errors than two proofreaders almost 100% of the time.
I’m no historian, but from what I understand, typos used to be much more common in printed literature. Publishing houses prior to 1900 typically consisted of three guys with a Gutenbergian printing press and multiple bottles of cheap liquor to fuel them through long nights printing books and pamphlets. Given the state of technology at the time, errors in plates were harder to catch and even harder to fix, plus paper and ink were expensive, so it was more cost-effective to just keep the errors on page 57 rather than print a new batch of page 57s.
Errors or irregularities are usually frowned upon in our culture, and most people seem to agree that it’s better to be a perfectionist than to be someone who lets mistakes slide by. Most people I know could be classified as perfectionists, and like most trends, it can probably be traced back to the public school system. Correct answers are rewarded, mistakes are penalized. It makes sense when you’re a kid, and it mostly makes sense in adult world, but sometimes you’re allowed to throw this paradigm out the window. That can be a huge relief for creative types like me.
Musical performance is a good example. If you’re playing classical or if you’re in a recording studio, hitting the right rhythms and the right notes is your number one priority. But if you’re playing jazz or performing live, the razor-sharp precision of classical is no longer expected; in fact, your audience expects you to deviate from the rigor of the studio and provide something more spontaneous. Wrong notes? No problem. If you miss your cue, then who cares? Anthony Kiedis of RHCP misses his cues so often it’s become part of the band’s brand. And if you stretch your solo out for five minutes instead of the usual thirty seconds, that’s just more music for your audience to savor.
Writers, meanwhile, don’t have live performances or the equivalent of same. All our sessions are studio sessions, so we better make sure we get it right. And if we make mistakes, we can’t help but feel like failures. Or maybe that’s just me.
Chances are, I’m the only person who gives a shit about whatever typos or errors have appeared in my work. Of course, I understand this fact intellectually, but emotionally I’m still beating myself up.
Maybe I need a different analogy to help me feel better about myself. In Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant, Rant Casey’s mother/wife (the novel involves a lot of rabies-fueled time travel shenanigans) liked to add pins, needles, pebbles, and shards of broken glass to the pies and casseroles she prepared for potlucks. She wasn’t an amazing cook by any means, but her dishes were the ones people remembered. They had to eat her food methodically and mindfully so as not to slice open their tongues and gums, and because of “snags” and “errors” in her cooking, she achieved a kind of culinary immortality in the community’s collective psyche.
We should start thinking about typos as razor blades in our brownies or nails in our lasagna. They aren’t felicitous, but if we bite into one, we’re going to remember not only the sting of the blade, but the sweetness of the chocolate as well. Going back to the word “electic” in The Antelope Wife—if that typo didn’t exist, I might not have remembered that wedding scene so vividly. I can think of many examples in which I encountered a typo in a book and ended up remembering a passage better because I had to backtrack and correct it in my mind.
I’m not saying writers should strive to make typos or that pastry chefs should slip fishing hooks into their cream puffs. Rather, if you forget a space or repeat a phrase a phrase or word t or two, don’t dwell on it to much.