Three years ago, when the galleys of my book arrived, my mother, spouse, and I gazed down at them, excited by how, well, book-like they looked. A note from my editor informed us that it was our (my) job to find any errant comma or line break or typo.
Since the galleys arrived on a Tuesday, my then seventy-eight year old mother, retired for the better part of a decade, would be the first reader while we middle-aged folk went to work.
“It’s very good,” my mother informed me on Thursday.
Before I could ask, what’s very good, my writing or the typesetting?, she continued. “I’ve only found one typo so far. At first I thought you were going off into magical realism or something like that but then I figured it out.”
She pointed to a sentence in the middle of a paragraph (can you find the typo?):
…If you bisected the city of San Francisco on both horizontal and vertical axes and went to that location, you would find yourself gazing at the view shown by this wide-angle shot: greenery stretches top to bottom on the left, and a parking lot for two hundred cats does the same on the right…
The setting being described here is the campus of a nursing home, and having cats there isn’t a bad idea. They might catch the mice and rats while also giving the place a homier feel, adding those simple, essential life pleasures that are all too often absent in facilities: touch, affection, and mutually voluntary and pleasing relationships.
It’s less clear why one would need either two hundred cats or a parking lot for them.
Which brings me back to typos: often the hardest typos to spot occur when the error makes a second, incorrect but actual word.
Garbage words – missing or extra letters forming words that don’t exist – are easier: stmp instead of stamp, arsen instead of arson.
Although even this has become more challenging in this era of acronyms, tech terms and biotech neologisms. GWEP anyone? Smtp? Dabigatran?
Yup, Google them, they exist and are spelled correctly.
And that brings me to my final point: our computer spell checks are necessary but not sufficient to create typo-free prose. Mine has a squiggly red line under 5 words in this post, a post that contains 3 typos, one of which does not have a red underline warning. That means my spell check got 2 right and made 4 errors.
So it’s batting .333, which would be quite good if this were baseball but is completely unacceptable in manuscript preparation.