Sunday, October 29, 2006

Jobs of the Past

I am currently reading – and greatly enjoying – a book called Sweet and Low, which I will blog on later this week, once I’ve had the chance to finish it. It’s a very entertaining book - history/ histrionics about the author’s family (which “invented” packaged sugar and the sugar-substitute Sweet ‘n Low) cum history of the sugar business.

In reading the book, I am noticing – and driven to distraction by - the number of times that dates and ages are used inconsistently. I know writers aren’t supposed to be good at math, but if your cousin little Steven was born in 1975, and your bar mitzvah was celebrated in 1981, little Steven couldn't have been 9 years old at your bar mitzvah. I’ve come across a number of little, annoying nits like this, which I may not have picked up on so readily if there wasn’t a handy-dandy family tree in the front that gave each “character’s” date of birth.

I could blame the author, Rich Cohen, but I don’t. I think there used to be people – were they called copy editors? fact checkers? – who were supposed to pick up on inconsistencies like this.

You don’t see all that many typos in published materials – let’s not consider “blogging” publishing – but you do see more and more of these little glitches.

Am I the only one that goes nuts about things like this, constantly back and forth-ing when the character’s eye-color changes from one chapter to the next (and it’s 1840, so there are no colored contact lenses), or when the older brother is suddenly the younger sister, or the boyfriend’s mother is now named Flo, not Glo?

It’s not just the internal inconsistencies that bother me. It’s the anachronisms, too. OK, if they're reading about something that took place in 1840, most people probably wouldn’t know whether or not the shoe button hook had been invented yet. But if they're reading a book that takes place in 1962, most poeple don’t expect someone to be driving a Mustang – and I’m one of them.

A few months ago I read a novel that took place during World War II.

Fact check: women of that era wore seamed stockings. Fact check: women of that era faced a nylon shortage and went bare legged. Fact check: women drew fake seams up the back of their legs to make it look like they had stockings. Fact check: women used Magic Markers to draw those fake seams. Now wait a minute: did women really use Magic Markers to draw fake seams?

No, no, no. If the author’s mother or grandmother never told her that they used eye-brow pencils, shouldn’t a copy editor have found this out? Didn’t the copy editor bother to do a simple google and find that Magic Markers weren’t invented until a decade later?

Isn’t this what copy editors/fact checkers are for?

And do they even exist anymore?

Or are they going the way of all those other lost professions – lamplighter, blunderbuss designer, muleskinner – that survive only in one of those Societies Dedicated to Keeping Alive Something We Don’t Need Anymore. Or in one of those replica villages that demonstrate how we used to live in ye olde dayes. (You know the type: the actor gets into ye olde mode and sits there scratching his cod piece - just daring you to notice - while he speaks as if it were still 1630 and demonstrate somes unimaginably stultifying task. “I noweth willeth showeth thee how I spendeth my worketh daye polishing the claws of dead roosters to maketh hair combes for the ladies faire.” The real purists don’t wear deodorant, brush their teeth with twigs, and no doubt use corn cobs for toilet paper. Makes you hope your cell phone will ring so you can answer and hand it to the guy. "It's for you. Says his name's Miles Standish.")

Is that what it will come to? Someday your children’s children will go to Publishing House Village, where they’ll watch fake copy editors checking facts, explaining exactly what they’re doing as they look things up in books and make caret marks with blue pencils. The kids will snicker and roll their eyes while the adults feign interest. Is that what it will come to?

(And, yes, there are no doubt typos and other glitches in this blog entry. Maybe there are still muleskinners somewhere. But, hey, I’m a blogger not a fact-checking-copy-editor.)

1 comment:

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