Can three baby rants make one adult rant?

Either the world is good or I’ve been too busy to rant here lately but during this past week a couple of things have gotten under my skin. None of them are really annoying enough for a fully-powered rant all on their own but together they’ve allowed me to build up sufficient steam 🙂

The first is what I think of as the Americanisation of literature. I liked Toronto-based legal thriller THE GUILTY PLEA a lot but the edition I read had some very un-Canadian features. Firstly, on multiple occasions clunky bits of exposition were included to explain the differences between the Canadian and American legal systems. Occasionally this was done via the Canadian detective character explaining things to the American journalist character in an almost realistic fashion (though surely any journalist worth her salt who regularly operated on both sides of the border would know this stuff already) but at other times it seemed like sentences were inserted in the narrative virtually without context. Secondly, and even more annoyingly, Canadian characters talked in imperial measurements (e.g. some chap was referred to as weighing a certain number of pounds versus the kilograms that a Canadian would actually use in real life).

I can’t decide which explanation for this sad state of affairs is worse. On the one hand there might only be one edition of the book and everyone – including Canadians – is just supposed to accept a Canadian story that has an oddly American feel to it. Presumably if this is true then publishers and/or authors are deliberately inserting the American-specific language and exposition in any book they want to do well in the American market. The alternative possibility is that there is a separate edition of this book (and probably many others) for American readers which means, presumably, that American publishers think American readers are too stupid or too insular to be able to read a book in which lawyers can’t engage in a side-bar conversation while in court and judges don’t have gavels.

Either way this homogenisation is something I think we should all (American readers included) rail against. Surely one of the joys of reading books set in different places is learning a little something about different cultures, language and social norms. And if we come across an unfamiliar fact or a word there is virtually ubiquitous access to Google or Wikipedia these days for a quick bit of ‘research’.

Is it really unreasonable to want a book set in Canada (or Sweden or France or Australia) to read like it is set in Canada (or Sweden or France or Australia) rather than the 51st state of the bloody union?

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The second gripe is the woeful state of eBook formatting. You’d think I’d have been chuffed that Aussie author Andrew Nette’s début novel GHOST MONEY was not only great reading but also well formatted. And of course I was. I liked the crispness of the font, the spacing of the lines, the margin width that meant none of the text was affected by the tiny shadows formed on my eReader’s slightly inset screen. And I particularly liked the fact that the book was free from the wordsallrunningtogether and inexplicably

split lines that virtually every other eBook I’ve read is plagued by.

But after the first glow of wonderment had abated I started to get hot under the collar about why all my eBook reading experiences aren’t similarly perfect.

I’ve paid good money for some eBooks that my fifth grade English teacher would have knocked back with something along the lines of “no one will care about what you say if you can’t say it properly” or an acerbic “are the jam fingerprints an integral part of the story young lady?” (both are actual quotes from Mrs Gibbon, a recent immigrant to Australia from India when she taught me and though 35 years have since passed I still feel the influence of her insistence on presenting the written word with due reverence) (it is, after all, with a nod to Mrs Gibbon that I even proofread my text messages). It could be argued that the book’s publisher, Snubnose Press, only publishes eBooks so they ought to be good at it but how long should traditional publishers get a pass for? A year? A decade? For the term of their natural lives (which won’t be much longer if they don’t smarten up)? Perhaps in the interim Snubnose can make some extra dosh by offering to format the eBook versions of traditionally published books for those publishers who, seemingly, can’t be bothered.

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My last gripe concerns FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Or rather the people who will not stop promoting it. I received three emails and one piece of physical junk mail in the last week alone offering deals on the trilogy. All from local (Australian) stores.

Book stores in general and Australian ones in particular have been bemoaning their lot in life in recent years. The incursion of online shopping and easy access to US and UK stores with their significantly lower prices has, undoubtedly, impacted the local market (for example the store where my book club used to meet closed its doors 2 weeks ago). But whenever they talk about fighting back they bang on about how they have something unique to offer readers, especially in the areas of curation and recommendation. THERE IS NOTHING SPECIAL ABOUT OFFERING ME A BOOK I CAN, LITERALLY, PICK UP OFF THE STREET.  For all its slightly worrying behemoth-ness Amazon’s recommendation algorithm has never offered FSoG up to me.

I am the kind of customer my local book stores need. I spend a ridiculous amount of money on books each year, unlike the occasional reader who will be tempted to enter the store just once for this Fifty Shades of Soft Porn that everyone is talking about. And I want a book store to make intelligent recommendations and offers. Instead of stuffing their newsletters and shelves with yet more copies of FSoG how about some Australian offerings? Each time I have bought a copy of Virginia Duigan’s THE PRECIPICE this year (one for me, two as gifts) I’ve had to order it in. It’s a new-release Australian novel that was long listed for this year’s Miles Franklin award and it’s f***ing brilliant. But there’s no room for even a handful of stock copies amongst the entire display of E.L.James’ tomes. If that’s all my local store is going to offer a reader like me then I will revert to buying online (something I’ve hardly done at all for the past 12 months).

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23 Responses to Can three baby rants make one adult rant?

  1. Terry says:

    Hi Bernadette,

    I’m right with you on your second baby rant. Not just formatting, but errors in general.
    I wrote to Amazon complaining about this a few days ago, giving examples from my current reading, ‘Staring at the Sun’ by Julian Barnes. In about the first 10% of the book I found five:

    “his head jerked on Lis neck…”
    Should be “his…”.

    “Uncle Leslie went firsthand pulled out both laces…”
    Should be “first and…”.

    “I’m sure J will…”
    Should be “I will…”.

    “TU tell you…”
    Should be “To tell you…”.

    That took close to an hour of re-reading and message composition. ( gave up on finding the 5th error.)

    So having paid £5.22, it seems I’m now to be an unpaid proofreader?

    It’s clear that these books are being scanned and then very poorly checked. The publisher is the primary villain here, but it’s Amazon we’re paying. Their management of publishers is plainly below par, and it’s us who are suffering.

    There, that’s better, thanks for the brief loan of your rant!

    Terry, East Grinstead, UK


  2. Bernadette – How right you are on all three counts! A great deal of the joy in my reading experiences is learning about the way people speak, think, live in other places. Reading crime fiction that’s too homogenous is like traveling to a new exciting place I’ve never been…only to find a MacDonald’s on the corner *sigh.* As to formatting, I’ve had so many instances of missed-out words and more as I read e-books. It truly is annoying! And I won’t mention the book you talk about in your last rant; if I mention it that could be construed as hyping it which is the last thing I want to do!


  3. Maxine says:

    On your first rant, I have just ordered this book from Amazon, presumably a different regional edition from yours, so I will look out while reading it to see if the same “Noddy” passages are included. I too shall be very irritated if they are. It is so unfair on authors when publishers do this kind of thing.

    On your second rant, yes, this is one reason why it is so damned stupid for otherwise quite intelligent people (as well as not so intelligent ones) to assume that e-books are somehow “free”. Anyone who is a content provider knows that content must be optimised for the platform you are delivering it on. We double check all our HTML copy because things like equations and greek characters (and sometimes even normal words!) can go skewy in the conversion process. Pushing out various mobile, e-book etc formats of our content require just the same thing. This is all part of the value that publishers add, which is not appreciated by most of the world…..I am not saying publishers are perfect and it is shocking to read the above in your post and the comment by Terry, as it seems as if even the world’s biggest publishers are just doing auto-conversions without a check. But a good publisher will verify all “repurposed” content…..if they aren’t lucky enough to have a perfect xml workflow to start with, that can be pushed out into any platform (currently, so far as I know, not possible with text that contains sophisticated features eg equs, or complex figures).

    On your third rant, it is terrible. I am now reading articles from the bookselling trade in all seriousness saying how 50 shades of old boots has saved the industry in the past quarter. It is just a passing fad, guys. And please, lay off us poor readers with your stupid “marketing”. I think we have all just about heard of these ghastly books by now, and rather wish we had never done so.


    • Maxine I will be curious to hear about your edition of the book. Mine was presumably an American edition (bought from the US Audible store). I honestly don’t know if it’s authors or publishers or some combination that causes this stuff but it is jarring. We seem to be getting more American editions of books locally too – we used to get UK editions almost exclusively but now it’s a mixture – so even buying books locally doesn’t prevent the annoyance.

      It is such a shame that many of those ‘old’ publishers who have moved into eBook publishing have done it with the lowest possible budget – as you say if done properly – with a mixture of humans and technology – it can be a great thing.

      I’m not sure I want the publishing industry to be saved if it’s only going to produce more dreck like FSoG – all the knock-offs done and planned are making me feel slightly ill. But I suspect there will always be such nonsense and I will always be out of step with it.


  4. Maryanne says:

    Thank you for the rants. I feel deeply about the first one. If I wanted to read James Patterson (and one of his factory novels) I would. It’s a pleasure to be transported through the written word to Sweden, South Africa, Australia or NZ..To “listen” to the language and see and smell and be there..which is what a truly good book does for me. I can’t comment on E books as I don’t use that venue as I like the feel of a REAL book in my hands. And as to FSoG…isn’t it a hula hoop right now in the publishing world? These things used to be called Fads but I’m so old..maybe there’s a new I can’t write for fear of deletion! Thanks so much for putting into words my feelings..Maryanne


    • I think they are still called fads Maryanne and I agree there will always be one. Even though I liked the books I wasn’t thrilled when Stieg Larsson’s trilogy was all the rage…I don’t understand this obsession with hyping one book (or one series) to the detriment of all others.


  5. Kathy D. says:

    Aaaaugh! Inserting points on the American legal system in a book written by a Canadian writer? The point is to enjoy learning about their legal system while reading a story with a Canadian setting — and all else Canadian. I can read enough set in the States, some of it mediocre or worse and why would I want to read a book set in another country if it is full of Americanisms? Not. Maybe it’s more insidious.
    I don’t read ebooks but I find mistakes in paper books. Sometimes they are so obvious that I wonder how copyeditors and proofreaders don’t see them.
    And FSOG! This would annoy me no end — getting advertisements for this book. Unfortunately, all three volumes are on the New York Times’ hardcover, softcover and ebook bestsellers’ lists.
    I do not get it. The publishing industry is thrilled. Booksellers — online and bricks and mortar stores — must be making a lot of money to do all of this promotion. I still don’t get it. It’s badly-written in addition to being soft-core porn and also it sets back women about 50 years.
    I guess it doesn’t matter what sells as long as it sells. Kind of depressing at that.


    • Kathy I find mistakes in paper books too but in eBooks the % is much higher. I suspect it’s because many of the eBooks are created from scanned copies as Terry above says – this is a notoriously unreliable technology unless humans are used to do a pass of the scanned text. So although there are some advantages to eBooks I wouldn’t be too worried that you don’t read them, especially if typos and all that annoy you.

      Sadly FSoG is the latest in a long line of publishing sensations I don’t understand and never will. I’m just glad there are other ways of finding out about books these days – otherwise I’d be reading James Patterson books and FSoG clones all day and probably going mad (more mad) 🙂


  6. I’m with you on gripes one and two (I don’t live Down Under so can’t comment on gripe three).

    The worst kind of Americanisation in my opinion, is Canadian SELF-Americanisation. Linwood Barclay is a prime offender: a best-selling Canadian thriller writer who lives in Toronto but sets ALL of his books in the U.S.!


    • Lots of Australian authors do the same Curious Presbyterian – many of our most successful authors set their books in the US or UK. I’ve heard several talk at festivals and say they were advised to do this.


  7. Amberber says:

    I only have one bone to pick, since I understand your grievances in the second and third mini rants…but as for your annoyance with so-called “Americanisation” of literature, it’s not completely impossible for Canadians to use, or refer to the imperial system of measurement…they did use it for a long time. And your alternative reasoning for why this happens is somewhat silly, but this is your rant…

    Maybe your grievance should be taken up with the author. Perhaps he thought it was important to make distinctions between legal systems, regardless of the reader’s (American or non-American) aptitude. He may have grown up with “American-specific language” or thought it was interesting for whatever reason…and whose to say it’s homogenisation of literature, if that’s how people speak? That’s about as absurd as me knitpicking about the use of ‘s’ in Americanisation or Homogenisation, as opposed to the use of ‘z’. That’s just how it is, right? Seems trivial, but again this is your rant.

    “Is it really unreasonable to want a book set in Canada (or Sweden or France or Australia) to read like it is set in Canada (or Sweden or France or Australia) rather than the 51st state of the bloody union?”
    –No, not unreasonable at all, but that generalization is too much. I enjoy reading books. I especially enjoy reading good books about other cultures, but I have yet to encounter this phenomenon you speak of…very interesting.


    • Amberber if this was the only book in which such things had occurred I wouldn’t care…but it happens in loads of books. I’ve family in the US and when I visit them I always come home with a suitcase full of the cheaper books available there – many of the ‘foreign’ books (i.e. English, Canadian, Australian) suffer this kind of thing. I’ve heard many Australian authors talk of having to have two editions of their books to account for changes in language and terminology.

      Several authors have been told to prepare glossaries before consideration of publication in the US can even be considered. The thing is this never happens in reverse. An American book published in Australia is never ‘Australianised’. I have to do my own imperial to metric calculations to have some understanding of what someone weighs or how far they’ve driven and I have to look up any words I don’t understand. I don’t mind doing this – it’s all part of the fun of reading a book set in America. But it’s a lot less fun when I have to do it for a book not set there.

      Perhaps my alternatives about why this happens are silly but I can’t think of a less silly reason. Whether it happens naturally (self imposed by an author) or more forcefully (from the publisher) it does happen. This particular book was only the most recent example from years of reading.


  8. Rebecca says:

    1. I don’t mind un-Americanized books. I can figure out the differences with a little help from Wikipedia.

    2. I understand that editing/formatting costs money, but I’d love better e-books.

    3. The FSoG hoopla reminds me of The DaVinci Code hoopla of a few years ago. I’m just not interested in either of the books.


  9. Nan says:

    In several books translated from Icelandic or Swedish, I’ve felt that British expressions crept in which I’m positive aren’t in those countries.
    And I’ve noticed many mistakes in ebooks. Maybe fine if they are free, but not if I’ve paid for them.


  10. JoV says:

    I’m with as always with your rant. I totally agree with the first. Don’t get me started with 50 shades.. I don’t understand why everyone is going out of their ways to publicise and sell crap!


  11. Kathy D. says:

    I don’t understand either not only the FSOF sales and best-seller status, but on daily talk shows, the books are being promoted, even on the morning national network news shows! Women are talking it up and in one case, a male news anchor was interjecting his interest in the book’s passages. I felt like we were in high school.
    And I wonder why Australian authors are being told to set books in Britain or the U.S. I guess it has to do with sales in those markets. Yet, there are plenty of books written here and set here. Don’t we want to learn about other countries and cultures?
    I’m loaning books from Oz to reader friends and they are fascinated with the locations there and the characters.
    Of course, I’ve read that most U.S. book purchasers buy U.S.-published books, by far much more than Europeans, for instance, buy only books published in their own countries.
    Maybe this world over here is getting more insular even in crime fiction, with some exceptions.


  12. Andrew Nette pointed this post out to me. I’m one of the editor’s over at Snubnose Press and I just wanted to say thanks. We go through every file for formatting issues multiple times to check for those weird quirks that sometimes makes their way into a file in the oddest places. I’ll also click through the entire preview that KDP offers before actually finalizing the upload. Further still I’ll click through the entire sample as soon as the book is published to see what it looks like on my kindle.


  13. Belle Wong says:

    I just picked up my copy of The Guilty Plea yesterday from the library – I put in a request for it after reading your review the other day. I’m in Canada, but my copy says it’s an “export edition”. I’ll keep my eye out for those explanations of the differences between the two legal systems – it does sound like a very clunky thing to do in a novel. When it comes to measurements, it’s actually not unusual to hear people here use imperial measurements when talking about weight – usually it’s older people, but sometimes younger people, too. For distances and temperature, though, I very rarely hear people use imperial terms (except when it comes to oven temperatures – probably because so many cookbooks still seem to use F, and of course, lots of the online recipes do too).

    I always like reading books that haven’t been Americanized – you get such a full flavour of the culture of the setting of the book that would be utterly lost with Americanization.

    Improper formatting in an ebook can be so jarring. Although, I’ve actually been more disturbed lately by the number of proofreading and copyediting errors I’ve found in print books.


  14. kimbofo says:

    I love a good rant — and you’ve given us three!! 🙂

    On your second point, maybe I’ve been lucky, but pretty much every ebook I’ve purchased has been fine — I’ve not really had any issue with formatting.

    On your third point, it smacks of a complete lack of imagination for book shops to be peddling this kind of stuff to you via newsletter. It’s sheer laziness, really. Because I’m so spoilt with access to Amazon UK and Book Depository, my natural tendency is to buy books online. But I do like to have a splurge in-store as well. Recently, on a whim, I decided I wanted to buy Tana French’s new novel while I was in Charing Cross Road. Now, of course, Charing Cross Road is supposedly the hub of indie book shops in London but did you think one of them had it in stock? Granted it had only come out on the Thursday, but you would think at least one shop (I visited 4) would have it in stock three days later. But no. Not one shop had it on the shelves. I had been eager to support an independent book shop with my hard-earned cash, but ended up going home and buying the ebook edition for my Kindle. Any wander bricks-and-mortar stores are going to the wall? It’s not like I was asking for anything obscure…


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  16. Dorian Stuber says:

    I’m Canadian and don’t know anyone who uses kilograms when talking about people’s weight.

    (In general, though, these rants are quite reasonable!)


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