A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, March 17, 2008


Why is it that newspapers are better edited than books?

No, seriously. As a reviewer, I’m constantly startled by the typos, misspellings, grammatical anomalies and downright factual errors that creep into books – the kind of errors that would get most newspaper copy editors, at least on the better newspapers, beaten about the head and ears with their stylebooks. (Or would have before newspapers started laying off their copy editors.)

Now, I read most of the books I review in bound galley form, usually marked with caveats like “Do not quote for publication before checking final bound edition.” But when I do check, I often find that the errors I’ve circled haven’t been corrected. Sometimes I even e-mail the errors I’ve found to the publishers.

As an example of what I’m talking about, take the review of Artists in Exile from the Houston Chronicle below. I was delighted to see that in the printed version, some editor had taken the trouble to add an umlaut to the name of Max Ophuls – i.e., Ophüls. The truth is, I had omitted the umlaut because Ophuls himself dropped it while he was working in Hollywood. (That’s why it doesn’t show up in the blog entry, which was copied from my original manuscript, not from the Chronicle.) But some hard-working editor, struggling under a daily newspaper’s deadline, actually took the time to check the name and make the change.

Now, look at the book itself. In it, the author refers to the character “Professor Unraut” in the film “Das blaue Engel.” More than once. In fact, the film is Der blaue Engel, which was based on the Henrich Mann novel Professor Unrat. The character’s name in the film is Prof. Immanuel Rath, a teacher whose pupils call him “Prof. Unrat” – in German, Unrat means “trash.” As far as I can tell, there’s no such word as “Unraut” in German.

In the first draft of my review, I pointed out these errors, but I decided that they were picayune. It’s an excellent book, and although the mistakes bothered me, they detract in only minor ways from its excellence. But when you see mistakes in a book that you catch easily, you wonder if there are mistakes that you didn’t catch.

Anyway, an eagle-eyed newspaper copy editor noted that Ophuls was missing his umlaut. Which only makes me wonder if books are subjected to less stringent editing.