After our lengthy discussion of the confusing tables at the end of Titanic: Voices From the Disaster, the book’s editor, Lisa Sandell, generously offered to send us the revised (and much more clear) tables that appear in the current print run. I’ve produced them below for anyone who is interested. I don’t have a copy of the first edition on hand (it appears to be a very hot commodity at my library – congratulations to Hopkinson and Sandell!), but when I do, I’ll take a closer look to see the specific changes. For now, these charts definitely make perfect sense to me, and I’m very happy to post them for our readers.
On another note, I finally got around to reading Walter Lord’s classic account of the Titanic, A Night to Remember, and I am now convinced that Hopkinson’s is the new book by which to measure Titanic accounts. Not that there was anything wrong with Lord – I thought it was excellent. But Hopkinson’s book offers more context (especially about those elusive telegrams about the ice, but also about the building and trial run of the ship), and, because it is more recent, has better scholarship, including of course the discovery of the wreck itself, to work with. This book is quickly climbing up my personal list of best books of the year.
Here are the tables:
1) On the National Book Awards: as I said in my tweet (and you quoted in your title) I was being intentionally snarky about the NBAs. And, as you noted, I cherry-picked my examples for effect. I hope everyone reading realized that I was being somewhat facetious. Nevertheless, I maintain that the NBAs are more interested in “message” books than the Newbery or the Printz: in the year The Penderwicks won, three of the other finalists were about death and the fourth was about date rape. As I also said, I don’t really think this is a problem with the awards, just an interesting data point to keep an eye on. Continue reading
Filed under Awards, Books
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. Continue reading
I’m going to push back on you a little bit here, because at least within your examples I don’t think you’re being consistent. You ask “what’s the point of” the inaccuracies in Fault Line when they could have been so easily fixed? And I agree, they could have. But so too, could Cory Doctorow have given his manuscript to any San Franciscan and gotten at least a few of his errors immediately fixed. I agree with you that they don’t affect the plot in any serious way, but it doesn’t sound as it Tashjian’s errors affect her plot either (I haven’t read Fault Line). Why mistrust Tashjian but not Doctorow? Her errors don’t have anything to do with the subject of abuse. It sounds to me as if you have a pre-existing trust of Doctorow (perhaps because you’ve read his other novels, or at least know about him from Boing Boing, etc.) but don’t have that for Tashjian. While that might work for you personally, I think we should be looking for something a little more objective–something that works for a novice to Doctorow and Tashjian both. Continue reading
You raise some interesting questions, and I don’t pretend to have the definitive answers, although I do (of course) have opinions.
Let me start with three examples, two from YA books, and one from a movie. Cory Doctorow’s book Little Brother (Tor, 2008) takes place in San Francisco. I remember that when I read it when it came out, there were a few things that struck me as inaccurate, but not to the point where it bothered me much. I just flipped through it again and came up with some examples. Continue reading
We just had a discussion about a few minor points of fact in Hopkinson’s Titanic. Meanwhile, over at Heavy Medal, there is a small debate going on about the epigraph of Sy Montgomery’s Temple Grandin. Apparently, Montgomery gives credit for a quotation to Plato, when he in all probability did not ever say it. In the course of discussing whether this matters or not, Jonathan Hunt questioned whether the same nitpicking would be applied to a novel, to which commenter Eric replied, in part: “There can always be a reason, knowledgeable character, unreliable narrator, etc for information to be falsely stated. A fiction book even a realistic one has no need to keep every instance as true as possible.”
So my question for today is: how much does accuracy matter in fiction? Two years ago on Heavy Medal there was a somewhat contentious debate over some issues of geography in Rita Garcia-Williams’s One Crazy Summer – she describes a hill in Berkeley where there is no hill. You’ve lived in Berkeley, and you’re on record on this blog as stating “when I read a book that takes place in, for example, San Francisco, I’m hyper-critical of the details of setting and language.” Is this just a pet peeve that many of us share, or is it a real criticism of a novel? Can a novelist simply invent a world in which everything is exactly the same as our world except for an extra hill in Berkeley, or does this somehow break the contract with the reader? Does the genre matter (historical fiction, realistic fiction, fantasy, science fiction)? Does it matter who makes the mistake–that is, if a character in a novel states something wrong, can we simply argue that the character was wrong in the context of the novel, but if the 3rd person omniscient narrator makes the mistake, then we can criticize?
Honestly, I have no idea the answer to this question. For myself (and I would wager for a large number of readers) the answer is something like “it matters if the information in question is something that I know and care about and I notice the mistake, but it doesn’t matter if I didn’t notice it or don’t care about the information.” But obviously, this is a completely untenable argument if we are going to have a discussion about books among numerous people, but I think it’s honestly the way most of us approach the issue. So how do we make a determination which factual inaccuracies matter and which don’t? Is it just anything goes as long as it’s labelled fiction, as Eric seems to be arguing? Or does every inaccuracy count against a novel? Or can we come up with some middle ground?
Since I’ve already used up almost 500 words just asking the question, I’m going to let you have first crack and answering it. Good luck!