Typographic bounty hunters

01 May 2010 | Diary

Reading a library copy of Haruki Murakami’s South of the border, West of the sun today, I noticed that someone had fixed a typographic error in the book by penciling an ‘r’ into the misprinted word, ‘unb oken’.

The manual correction of typos in library books strikes me as a slightly odd thing to do but is something we’ve probably all seen before. Oddly enough, the last one I can remember seeing was in a copy of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: also an Haruki Murakami novel. Maybe there is specifically something about Murakami readers that leaves them so inclined.

If we were to ask them about this behaviour, I’d like to think that they’d have an appropriately mindful Murakami-esque response: “I just can’t stand to see an incomplete or misspelled word. I don’t know why. I just can’t. It is what it is”, and then maybe they’d go and talk to a stray cat for a while.

It strikes me that you’d have to be a very singular person to do correct a typo in a mass-market paperback. What is the motivation? When I see a typo in a book, it may momentarily derail my reading but once I’ve acknowledged the typo, I just ignore it and move on.

By correcting the typo with a pen, all you’re doing is correcting the typo in one copy of a book, of which there are thousands, even millions, of other copies. There’s presumably no motivation on behalf of the corrector to fix all of the copies of the book. (Unless, of course, there is. Perhaps there’s a subculture of typographic bounty hunters travelling the libraries and bookshops of the world, patiently waiting to be discovered and interviewed by Louis Theroux).

Maybe this is the difference between typo correctors and people like me. If ever I find myself correcting typos, it’s as a professional editor and always in the master or proof copy of a book which has not yet been mass-printed.

This being said, I think the typo correctors should be praised for making this tiny difference in the world. I’ll miss this sort of thing when everything is digital and correctable at the source.

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