Trust and Perspective

Mark,

Aargh! I should have known that you would call me on both my inconsistency and my irrationality.

You’re right, of course. I was being both inconsistent and irrational. (But it seemed so rational at the time!)

I think two key words you used in your post yesterday are “trust” and “perspective.” What makes us trust an author? How much of our own knowledge and perspective comes into it? It is, as you noted, reader-specific. Because, of course, I was in effect saying that it’s all about me-me-me! Someone  writes about movies and places that I know and love and gets something wrong, and I’m deeply offended. Someone else does it about things I’m less attached to and I shrug it off. Someone else makes mistakes about something I know nothing about (Sydney, Australia?) and I don’t even notice, much less care.

I certainly take your point about feeling self-satisfied about the mistakes we notice, while there are undoubtedly hundreds or thousands we miss. Maybe we should ask why these mistakes are happening. In the comments,  both Beth and Laura noted the role that copyeditors, fact-checkers and others have in the creation of a book, and how some books are more thoroughly vetted than others.

I guess in the examples I gave before, I felt that Tashjian’s errors were the result of laziness (and, yes, lack of copyediting and fact-checking), while Doctorow’s were more the kinds of mistakes that almost anyone who doesn’t actually live in the Bay Area would make, so they didn’t seem as egregious to me. Again, probably inconsistent of me, but there you have it.

I’ve certainly read many fiction books in which the author, either in a foreword or  an afterword, has indicated that while the book was set in such-and-such a place, it is not meant to be an exact replica of that place, and that details were changed to serve the story. That seems to me one easy way to deal with the problem. It could work if either you don’t want to spend time checking the facts, or if, as in the One Crazy Summer case, you want to add a geographical feature as a metaphor for something else. Or you could do what Sue Grafton does in her Kinsey Millhone mysteries, and use a real place (Santa Barbara) but call it something else (Santa Teresa), so you can change things around at will and no one can complain.

- Mom

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Trust and Perspective

  1. Don’t give up so easily, Sarah! I was on your side! I’m such a stickler–and admirer of sticklers–that I once asked Elizabeth Wein whether her moon phases matched those of the real world on the dates of the secret night landings in CNV.

    I’m still chewing over the thought about period vocabulary in historical fiction. I have this gut feeling that the author should be held to very high standards there. I’m all for making historical times and places come alive for young readers, but not by making the characters speak in an improbably contemporary way. I realize it’s impossible to capture a time and place perfectly in dialogue or narration, and that eventually there has to be some sort of “good enough.” But even though the readers are children and teens–maybe especially because they’re young and learning from the piece–there really can’t be words that leap out at you…not at the kids, that is, but at me, at Sarah, at Mark, heck, at Ben Zimmer. (Yes, I’m thinking here of the whole Downton Abbey scandal of non-period language and idioms) To me getting language wrong feels worse than inventing a hill you need for a metaphor.

    Sometimes in MG and YA, even when the language is technically okay, the tone or “attack” the character takes in speaking feels modern, and that jars as well.

  2. Sarah Flowers

    And what was her answer (Elizabeth Wein)? I did like the way she explained in the afterword the origins of various things she used inthe book.

  3. If I remember correctly (and now I can’t find the exchange in my mail box), Elizabeth could only get the phases of the moon to be consistent with each other, but they don’t match the actual phases on the dates she chose. But don’t quote me on that!

    The book is so carefully researched, there are probably only two errors in the whole darned thing: 1. very myopic people (like “Balliol”) have concave corrective lenses, so their eyes appear to us to be smaller and more sunken on their faces (his eyes appear larger, which would make him hyperoptic, or far-sighted), and 2. (Elizabeth pointed this one out to me) the Pennine hills are due east of Stockport, not west. When I asked her about the myopia, Elizabeth already knew about it and said that if she gets the chance to correct it in future editions she will, but for the location of the hills, since Julie is reporting and she’s both bad at navigating and under stress, the mistake will stay as a “Julie-type error”!

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