Reading With Our Eyes, Not Our Pens

I wrote this a few years back, and I still get steamed about the “self-appointed grammer and spelling cops” among us.

I am an avid reader and writer. One of my favorite places is the local library, and it seems every week I am either checking out new books or returning them. Although I have great respect for the library, the librarians and the books themselves, I have been occasionally guilty of ruining books by my own carelessness.

One book was permanently destroyed by the cup of coffee I was drinking while reading (note to self: do not drink and read!), another one fell victim to a large splash of onion soup, and yet another succumbed to a blob of grape jelly (add to previous note: do not eat and read!). In payment for my sins, I turned myself in to the surprisingly understanding lady behind the desk, and paid for each book (which I now own). These are sins of over-confidence and carelessness.

However, there is a worse sin being committed in our libraries that has been going for quite some time -–self-appointed grammarians who feel it is their responsibility to make corrections in PEN to published books.

Before I go on, I will admit to being a grammar and spelling snob myself. I have corrected countless menus over the years (and do you know, the owners are NEVER grateful for it?). Some of the bloopers have been astounding, such as:

  • cramberry sauce (translation: cranberry sauce)
  • super juice (translation: soup or juice)
  • paste with all oil (translation: pasta with aioli [garlic-flavored mayonnaise])
  • chocolate buzzard (translation: chocolate blizzard [ice cream concoction])
  • mice pie (translation: mince pie)

I’ll admit that I have tsk-tsked over published misspellings or grammatical errors, but these things happen. But writing in a library book defaces it, devalues it, and quite frankly, pisses people off (well, me anyway). One book at least had penciled-in corrections (all of which I angrily erased),  but the ones in ink are inexcusable. I  guess it wouldn’t bother me so much if they were correct (and if so, why not just contact the publisher instead of ruining a book?), but so many I’ve seen are grossly incorrect.

For example, I am currently hooked on the Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child books and the one I’m reading now, “Still Life With Crows,” has inked corrections to colloquialisms. So it’s a double-whammy for me; ink in my book and corrections that show the ignorance of the self-appointed grammar cop. (Note to said grammar cop: if you don’t understand the lingo of the characters, you shouldn’t be correcting anything. And stop reading with a pen in your hand!)

That’s my rant du jour. I realize that there are far more serious crimes in the world, but this one strikes close to home for me. Reading a book with an eye toward criticism is right up there with sitting in a movie theatre, loudly proclaiming that this or that “couldn’t really happen,” and so forth. Whatever happened to that glorious and freeing phrase, “willful suspension of disbelief?” Let’s read with our eyes, and not with our pens.

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