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Picky Reading: How Seriously Does it Affect Your Reading Experience?

I am a close, careful, picky reader. This can be good and bad. On the good side of things, being a careful reader can enrich the reading experience in many ways. Careful reading allows me to pick up on the more subtle foreshadowing the author may have written into the story. Careful reading allows me to enjoy and appreciate the prose of a good author. As far as being picky goes, there is no way I am going to be able to read everything I want to read by the time I die, even though that will be (hopefully) many, many years from now. I will end up reading thousands of books, but there will be twice that many thousands that I will have to let pass me by. So being a picky reader helps me choose which books are worth reading, while turning down those books that maybe don’t meet all of my standards.

Careful editing is a must

Photo: Orange County Editor

On the other hand, there are times when being a close, careful, picky reader can put a damper on the reading experience—or even ruin it. Although I am still learning the techniques involved in genuine close reading (literary techniques and such), picky reading comes naturally to me. When I think about all of the books I have read so far, I question whether editing standards have diminished over the years. I am hard pressed to think of a classic—or any book over maybe 10 years old—that I have read in which I found multiple typos. I mean, mistakes happen and sometimes one misspelling or missing word can be overlooked—after all, editing and proofreading are done by humans and we all know we aren’t perfect. But recently, I have noticed a growing trend in the number of books I read in which there are multiple typos or missing words. This is a problem. Now, I’m not an expert on editing, so if I am completely off track here I hope someone will comment and let me know. Do editors/proofreaders not edit line-by-line anymore? Is editing being done more and more by computer programs maybe, instead of human beings? I don’t know. But there is a definite difference in the quality of editing now versus the quality of editing in the past.

Picky reading doesn’t always just mean getting annoyed with obvious typos, though. Most everyone is going to notice something of that nature while they’re reading a book. My picky reading also extends to noticing holes in the story itself, and sometimes those missing pieces can be the smallest, most unimportant things. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop me from being annoyed by them. I have a recent example I’d like to share with you that actually prompted me to write this semi-rant in the first place. I’m currently reading The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. While this post is not going to get into the details of what I think of the book, I will say that I am generally enjoying it. It’s a good read and has a pretty good plot. I’ll express my ideas about that stuff when I review the book formally. In my opinion, reading the example I use below won’t spoil the larger plot for you, but if you are worried about spoilers, please skip to the last paragraph of this post. You can still weigh in on what I’ve talked about here without reading the following section.

The Wise Man's FearLet me set the stage: Kvothe has just broken into another student’s room to look for something that belongs to a female whom he admires. So as not to turn on the lights in this student’s room—and attract unwanted attention—he is using a lamp that he made as part of his training in the Fishery. This lamp is unique, and for reasons explained in the book that I won’t go into here, could get Kvothe into trouble if someone else should get a hold of it. Anyway, the student to whom the room belongs is alerted to the break-in and Kvothe finds himself in a hurry to get out of there before he is discovered. One minute, Kvothe is trying to figure out how he is going to escape, lamp in hand. Five paragraphs later he has gotten out through a window and is hanging from the window ledge with both hands, and there is no more mention of the lamp in between. We aren’t told that he put the lamp away (by whatever means he has to do that), or that he is holding the lamp in his mouth, or that it’s hanging from his belt, or anything like that. The lamp just isn’t an issue anymore. One minute he was holding it, and the next minute…POOF…no more lamp. I am now twenty pages past that part in the book and two days have gone by in the story, and there has been no mention of the lamp. Nothing in the story indicates that it is not in Kvothe’s possession, and the student whose room was broken into hasn’t come forward to say that he found the lamp in his room (and because of the precarious relationship between Kvothe and this student, he would have come forward by now, ardently pointing his finger at Kvothe). I am very annoyed by this. Is it really that big a deal? Probably not, and maybe most readers either wouldn’t even notice it, or wouldn’t care if they did notice it. But I’m a picky reader and I care. If Kvothe left the lamp behind he would immediately be ousted as the person responsible for the break-in, and his time at the university would be over. That would make for a very different story in the scheme of things. I feel that this detail being left out or ignored, as small as it may seem, is something that Rothfuss and his editor/proofreader should have caught. It diminishes both the quality of Rothfuss’ storytelling abilities, and my reading experience in this case. This small but important detail will probably annoy me for the rest of the book, even with my efforts to just let it slide. (Note: Perhaps I am being rash and this situation with the lamp will come into play later in the story. Anything is possible. In that case, Rothfuss’ storytelling abilities will be redeemed and my annoyance will vanish.)

Has my reading experience been ruined? Not entirely. The book is still a fun read and I’m looking forward to reading more of it. But what I consider to be a glaring omission has affected my experience with The Wise Man’s Fear in a substantial way, and that bothers me. Have you already read this book? Did you notice this issue with the story like I did? Are you a picky reader in general? How does that affect your reading experience? Let me know your thoughts/opinions about this in the comment section. Let’s discuss.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Rachel Steiner November 12, 2011, 10:01 am

    I am definitely a picky reader. Typos and grammatical errors, poor word choices and clunky writing, frequently lead to me not finishing books. I don’t follow plots as closely as you do, but I do recall reading a fantasy novel where some magic scrolls were never mentioned again. I read the whole novel with the worst feeling in the pit of my stomach because of those scrolls… and they did in fact resurface at the very end, along with an explanation of why the character forgot about them. Phew! Hopefully the lamp will reappear too. :-)

    • Heather November 12, 2011, 10:07 am

      Well, Kvothe was in possession of the lamp the whole time. It came back into the story later and nothing had happened to it, which annoys me. I still want to know how he managed to hold on to a window ledge with both hands and take care of the lamp at the same time. Haha!

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