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Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Not With A Bang or a Whimper, But A Misplaced Semi-Colon...

Like many, I have recently replaced books with electronic reading; my current preference is for a Nook. I love the convenience, the ability to take several books with me in one package, the way I can puff up the font in the evening to adjust for my declining eyesight. What do I hate? The appalling number of errors in the transcriptions. Granted, having grown up in the era of most of these books, I can quickly correct the mistakes; dear is actually clear (or vice-versa); tle is probably the, and le is probably he. Consider, for example, Norman Mailer's well-known article for Dissent, The White Negro. I'm certainly no fan of Mailer, but his writing deserves better than this hash at the Dissent website.
Our search for the rebels of the generation led us to the hipster. The hipster is an enfant terrible turned inside out. In character with his time, he is trying to get back at the conformists by lying tow …
Lying tow? Yep, in the second sentence of a major work by a major writer, there's an obvious error, one that I have no doubt did not appear in the original. But as we shall see, this is only tle tip of the iceberg:
it is tempting to describe the hipster in psychiatric terms as infantile, but the style of his infantilism is a sign of the times, lie does not try to enforce his will on others, Napoleon-fashion, but contents himself with a magical omnipotence never disproved because never tested
These first two bits are from the opening paragraph, and they are not by Mailer himself, but his quote from a Harper's article by Caroline Bird. But the errors are all modern, as is evident from further quotes in the article:
For if tens of millions were killed in concentration camps out of the inexorable agonies and contractions of super-states founded upon the always insoluble contradictions of injustice, one was then obliged also to see that no matter how crippled and perverted an image of man was the society he had created, it wits nonetheless his creation, his collective creation (at least his collective creation from the past) and if society was so murderous, then who could ignore the most hideous of questions about his own nature?
Bolding added for emphasis.
The cameos of security for the average white: mother and the home, lob and the family, are not even a mockery to millions of Negroes; they are impossible.
Bolding added for emphasis. It just goes on and on. It's tempting to think that the obvious mistakes will be fixed, but the language changes. Maybe someone will point out that Arthur Ashe couldn't lob like white tennis players. And I am not confident that the rest of the Western canon is being faithfully reproduced electronically. Let's face it, if the editors at Dissent can't fix some obvious bloopers, why should we think that the editors at Random House, who are probably seeing their future disappear anyway, are going to be more careful?
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