Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reader's Diary #520- Val Wake: White Bird Black Bird

When Val Wake contacted me earlier this year to see if I'd be interested in reading his book, I quickly replied yes. I love to read northern books and I review them for the local paper. I tried to find out as much as I could about Wake's novel and soon discovered that it was self-published. As I told Wake, I don't have a problem with self-published books per se. In one way I respect such a brave move. But, with the exception of Jeff Smith's Bone (a graphic novel), I've not had a lot of luck finding a good one. Unfortunately, White Bird Black Bird has not improved my odds.

I don't think I've ever encountered a book with this many typos. I know I make the occasional one here or there on my blog, but nothing near this bad. I began marking every mistake but soon realized I just couldn't keep it up for 521 pages. The incorrect use of commas (omitted or added where they don't belong) was the worst. A typical example:
In his retirement years, Mr Matheson, claimed some of the credit for its success.
Lynne Truss wishes she had a grave to roll in.

I've encountered typos in lots of books, even ones published by actual publishing firms, and normally I've been able to get past them, but the sheer volume of errors in Wake's book was painful. It definitely soured my perception of anything else the novel had to offer.

You know how people will often say that Pierre Berton's nonfiction books read like novels? The opposite can be said about Wake's. The characters are one- dimensional, the dialogue is forced, and quite frankly, I don't know why he didn't just write a nonfiction book. I think he'd handle that genre more effectively.

Set in the Northwest Territories in the 60s, it chronicles the early days of aboriginal rights organizations in the area and the political, economic and racial challenges they faced. Such topics are fascinating in reality, you'd think a fictionalized account would be even better. Not necessarily, I guess, but I'm sure a good editor would have helped.


Remi said...

It's a shame. I do like the notion of self-publishing and micro-presses. I like the fact that everyone has access to the means to publish a book.

Sadly, most people squander the opportunity and wind up proving the detractors right.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

That truly is a pity. A self-published author should really have a trusted friend or two read the draft, at the very least. If someone is going to make the effort to write a book, why wouldn't they want it properly presented?

Remi said...

I think it's sometimes easy to get caught up in the vacuum of self-importance. I AM writing this because I KNOW how good it is. I AM publishing this because I KNOW it needs to be published. Listen to that voice enough times and you start to forget the need of a good proofreader.

If I have something important to write at work I make a point of reading it aloud to someone. This has two benefits - first, the person hearing it can often pick up on something you missed or glossed over. Second, hearing it aloud makes it easier for me to spot the errors, as well.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Debbie and I had that exact conversation. How could he not have shared this with a couple close friends, and if he did, how could they have not pointed out the typo after typo after typo.

Remi: It's probably natural to be proud of one's book. But, yes, there should be adequate time put into checking it over VERY carefully. I suspect there's an impatience to "get it out there" but it shouldn't be rushed.

Wanda said...

Bummer you didn't get hold of this one before it went to press.