Thai Thoughts and Anecdotes Part 223
A READER'S LAMENT
I like to read about Thailand. I usually learn something and I am usually entertained. Do you smell the foreboding?
Recently, I ordered through the Boston Public Library Interlibrary Loan Program a book called Smiles of Deceit by Jim Cornick. The book came from the University of California Southern Regional Library Facility.
It's a nice size and a nice weight for bed and bath reading. Three hundred pages, readable font for someone with fifty nine year old eyes, and a nice cover. Published by Bangkok Book House in 2003 (1st edition) and Thai priced at 395 baht. Printed in Thailand. The publisher's blurb regarding the author reads in part:
"A longtime writer, Mr. Cornick began writing for the legitimate stage. Moving to pulp fiction, he soon found himself working for Warner Bros Studio for the next three decades." — etc. There is more and there is less. It reads in total a little oddly and includes three paragraph break omissions, one misspelling, and awkward sentences. Actually, the 'paragraphs' are so short it may be more useful to think of them as text-thought breaks. But why be a crank? I'm lying in bed with a new book in my hands written by an experienced writer. This will be fun. Let's open the book.
The Preface (3/4 page) has fifteen errors in the categories of paragraph break errors, improper use of single and double quote marks, misspellings, and commas used incorrectly. Yes, I am now using my editing pencil while lying in bed and I am beginning to wonder if I am holding a literary turd. I flashback to a quote from Chuckwoww:
"So why not get stuck in lads? Ignore the published writers and the literary experts. Yes, there are those who say amateurish efforts should never make it into print. Ignore them. Start with a few notes and see what happens. It's up to you. If worst comes to worst you can always find a cheap printer in Thailand, run off a few hundred copies, hawk them in the bars and wait for the movie contracts to pour in. Just make sure you throw in a few typos and spelling mistakes. It wouldn't be a proper Bangkok novel without them."
Let's start reading. The first sentence of Chapter 1 has a spelling error, writing error, and a missing comma. I flip to the last page (1/2 page) and there is a capitalization error, text spacing problems, comma issues, and a misspelling that rocks me. The misspelling is the title of the book. Think I am being fussy? How about Milton's Paradise Lost becoming Pair-A-Dice Lost? How about Shakespeare's play King Lear becoming Ming Lear? How about Jack London's White Fang becoming White Fung? How do you feel about the Bible becoming the Biple?
Conversation between the Managing Director and the Editor at a western publishing company:
Managing Director: Did you misspell the title of the book?
Editor: Yes sir.
Managing Director: You are fired.
Conversation between the Managing Director and the Editor at Bangkok House Publishing:
Managing Director: Did you pick up those noodles for me?
Editor: Yes sir.
Managing Director: Thanks.*
* Note the subject of misspelling the title of the book does not come up.
Anyway, I can feel my chest sagging as the air leaves my lungs. Clearly, this is not going to be a Thailand themed book that informs and entertains. But there is more.
More? Yes gentle reader there is more. Beyond the last text page of the novel is a promotional advertisement for the Bangkok House Publishing company. Big type and lots of negative space. Not many words but five punctuation spacing errors. Someone examining this will point out to me that this is the new Internet graphic way of presenting text. Sorry, you are not selling that to me. Although graphically it is consistent, in terms of readable text it is gibberish. Is this thing I am holding in my hands a book or a computer printout? I would like it to be a book. Anyway, I wonder what the office parties are like at the Bangkok House Publishing company. After all, if you have no standards and you have no pride; that just leaves animal acts and alcohol.
I stop marking the pages with my editor's pencil. If every page goes back to the University of California all marked up there could be trouble for me. Ok, how about the meat of the book (300 pps.)? I reviewed every page. Get ready to comma.
On almost (maybe every) page there are sentences with one comma where the sentence did not require a comma. This is not a matter of style. These are incorrect uses of the comma. Incredibly irritating. It is like being in short strokes with your girlfriend and then someone taps you on the shoulder. Then more short strokes with your girlfriend and someone taps you on the shoulder again. And again. And again. And again. And again. It's a rhythm thing.
Sentences with three commas usually (always?) do not need the third comma. More short strokes and a tap on the shoulder at the end of the sentence. It's a comma hell for the reader and a comma orgy for the writer who never met a comma he did not like and has little use for colons, or semi-colons, or hyphens, or . . . make your own list. Imagine three hundred pages of gratuitous commas.
Is there more? After all, there are three hundred pages to this novel. You bet there's more. Misspellings, unclear writing (which action of which character are we referring to?), more trouble with single and double quotes usage, incorrect paragraph breaks, trouble with paragraph construction (what is a paragraph Bangkok House Publishing?), constant capitalization errors . . . wait a minute.
Let's pause here from list making so that I can flash off the road into a rant ditch. I believe it would be amusing to attend a lecture by Bangkok House Publishing on what constitutes a paragraph. I do not think they know what constitutes a paragraph. Taking a big risk here and assuming the author, Jim Cornick, submitted the manuscript correctly paragraphed; imagine his surprise (shock, hand slap to the face, doody in the pants, chagrin) when he pulled the new book down off the shelf in Bookazine and was confronted with text format gibberish. I can hear the Bangkok House editor now:
"But Jim that is the way the computer did it. Perhaps you are not up to date on modern publishing. You remind me of another pest named Dana who wants everything done according to five hundred year old rules and stuff."
I wonder if in the annals (or is it anals?) of modern law there is now a computer defense. As in:
"Your honor, the reason my client committed these abuses (robbery, rape, murder, incorrect uses of commas) is because the computer told him to commit those abuses. My client is innocent of the crime of intent your honor. He actually displays no intent. He is just an idiot modern cypher without internal standards or the ability to feel shame. Perhaps your honor needs to get a little more modern."
Ok, back to the list . . . words used incorrectly, tense problems, improperly punctuated abbreviations, singular/plural errors, geography mysteries (the Bangkok harbor?), and time/distance inaccuracies. Too much detail? Think I am piling on? Consider this. If this was an academic exercise I would be required to give three examples for each of my observations. If this was a technical or an engineering paper I would be required to give three examples for each one of my observations with follow up 'problem solved' solutions for each example.
Believe me, I am sparing you. This essay/reader's lament is like a child's thrown stone skipping across the water.
Now somebody is going to tell me I am being unfair. The author, Jim Cornick, could not have made all those errors. After all, he is a published author (cue the bugles). Many (all?) of these boneheaded, ignorant mistakes must be attributed to the Thai editor at Bangkok House Publishing. Ok, only one problem. Jim Cornick's name is on the cover of the book. Call me crazy but I make him the author of the book. That means to me that he wrote the words. Was the book Smiles of Deceit published after his death? That would be his only excuse. Even a self aware literary hack like James Michener proofed the pages as they were sent to him by the publisher. What is Jim Cornick's excuse (other than death)? I figure it like this. After signing the contract, Bangkok House Publishing threw one of those wild Bangkok House Publisher's office parties and Jim just said:
"Ah, fxxx it."
Well, that's what I said also. The book goes back to the library tomorrow.
So, is that it? Are we done? Is the curtain finally down on this reader's lament? No, we have two more horrors to consider. Horror number one is that somewhere in Bangkok is a Thai proclaiming that he/she is an editor for the Bangkok House Publishing company. In English. Horror number two is that possibly in your life you may meet a gentleman who will tell you his name is Jim Cornick and he is a published author.
I don't want to meet either one of them.
The issue of typos in Thailand published novels and other English language literature is a big one. You see it from the national English language dailies as well.
In fairness to the author, at the typesetting stage all of his words are retyped in – so I have been told by an author friend – so even if the author had it spot on, it could get messed up at that stage. Of course there is also the issue of editing.
The works of all of the big name authors in Thailand feature the odd typo too, so this is not limited to any one publisher at all. There is, of course, a genuine need for a decent editor and a new typesetting process to overcome what is, as you say, a very distracting issue that detracts from the enjoyment.