Thursday, April 19, 2007

Egregious-- and Hilarious-- Error

Do editors (as opposed to acquisitions people and Spellcheck) exist any more?

First, visit Pluvi's post, appropriately titled AAAARGH!

For non- birders, the cover of The Peregrine does not show a Peregrine or even a falcon; the cover of The Goshawk shows a Gyrfalcon.

Now, go here. See the long bio of Nobel Prize- winning Aussie codger Patrick White? It is all very interesting but it is a bio of A DIFFERENT WRITER WITH A DIFFERENT FIRST NAME.

T. (Terence) H. (Hanbury) White, an Englishman born in 1906, was the author of, among many things, The Once and Future King (on which Camelot was distantly based) and Mistress Masham's Repose (amazingly, also republished by New York Review of Books Books).

I wrote to NYRB:

"In your forthcoming section you have a note for The Goshawk. There are two problems.

"First, it is NOT BY PATRICK WHITE, the Australian novelist whose bio accompanies your description, but by the English novelist T(erence) H(anbury) White, author of The Once and Future King and Mistress Masham's Repose.

"Second, the cover uses a detail from Holbein's portrait of Cheseman, of a Gyrfalcon. This is akin to using a picture of a cat to illustrate a book called "The Dog". (You have already used a photo of a "Buteo" hawk on the cover of Baker's The Peregrine, an error of the same order of magnitude).

"As the author and editor of several books concerned with birds of prey (A Rage for Falcons, Eagle Dreams, and the Lyons Press edition of The Goshawk) I think I can speak with some authority. Please correct these errors on this wonderful book!"

I will report if they respond. But...

Don't hold your breath.

Isn't anybody literate anymore?


Chas S. Clifton said...

I visited the site, and it looks like the bio was changed. As for the covers . . . big sigh.

Mark Churchill said...

On the one hand, it's nice that someone is making an effort to keep these books in print, and possibly bring them to a larger audience...

On the other hand, the art directors seem to among those who, in the words of a reviewer, "cannot tell a hawk from a handsaw" -- and so overlook the possibility that there might be more than one type of hawk.


Mark Churchill said...

Steve asks/pleads "Isn't anyone literate amymore?" Here's a quote that captures the problem in a nutshell. This is Brian Greene, writing as guest editor of the 2006 edition of The Best American Science and Nature Writing:

"There is an implicit agreement in 'educated circles' that it's 'barbaric to be unfamiliar with Plato or Monet or Dickens, but quite natural to be oblivious of quarks and chi-squares.' [That passage in turn quoted from a NYT op-ed by Nicholas Kristof.] As a professional scientist, I've often encountered this attitude among nonscientists. It's rarely derogatory, and it's frequently accompanied by embarassment -- sometimes feigned -- that the otherwise intelligent and informed individual has no understanding of science or mathematics. Generally, the encounters end with a well-meaning chuckle (one in which decorum obliges me to partake) that says in short 'it's really okay not to know any math or science.'"

If math and "hard sciences" such as physics get little respect from the literati, small wonder that natural history (imagine getting upset over mere trifles like using pictures of the wrong bloody bird) gets short shrift.

Steve Bodio said...

True, Mark. But outside of our corner (that is, falconry) it might be even worse that someone who works for a major NY publisher did not know the difference between a popular and never- out- of- print novelist and a Nobel Prize winner with a different name!

Incidentally that bio was changed an hour after I emailed them but I have no response from them as of yet and doubt I will...

"Thank you"?

Mark Churchill said...

Hey, at least they didn't mix up T.H. White and E.B. White (Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little)!

Steve Bodio said...

Mark-- just saw your second comment--YES!!!

As a literate person more (formally) educated in science than the humanities, I submit that most scientists are knowledgeable about the arts, while most humanities people are ignorant of science, and indifferent or even proud about the fact.

This became especially apparent to me in the seventies, when my late partner Betsy worked for MIT and I came into contact with polymaths like Phillip Morisson. Later years have only reinforced this notion. For instance, Helen ("Pluvialis") lectures on science, and is a poet of note. Show me the complimentary phenomenon-- please! In the past maybe-- Robinson Jeffers? Ted Hughes? But now? Maybe Pluvi's friend Rob Macfarlane...