Monday, June 04, 2007

Nuke Them Darn Apostrophe's!

Ahah! I said to myself. A typo. A carelessly missed apostrophe.

Why it should be there on the second page of the novel, I couldn't imagine: this was certain not the first edition of this book, it was published by Random House, honoured with the Pulitzer, endorsed by our beloved Oprah.

I looked again.
He thought the month was October but he wasnt sure.
Frustrations of frustrations - I didn't have a free hand to fumble in my big bag for an editor's pen (automatic reaction), trying to read while strap- hanging on the LRT.

And then the next sentence:
He hadnt kept a calendar for years.
Ouch and double ouch!

Because now I could see that the novel was part of a sinister plot to rid the world of its apostrophes. I flicked through the pages with my nose to confront my darkest fears. With great relief I saw that this strange disease had not yet spread to other contractions:
I'm ... they'd ... there'd ... what's ...
maybe there was hope for the world after all!

As soon as I got home after teaching my class I googled:
"cormac mccarthy"+apostrophes
and found that numerous others had the same problem with his writing. Kimbofo of Reading Matters went so far as to write the author an open letter:
Dear Mr McCarthy,

I am currently about a third of the way through your latest book, The Road. I am very much enjoying it. The post-apocalyptic setting reminds me of Mad Max meets Stephen King's The Stand. However, there is one thing that is really bugging me, and it is this:


For example, why have you written don't as DONT, won't as WONT, couldn't as COULDNT?

Is this some kind of clever literary thing I don't understand, or a lazy editor's error? I find it so annoying I have to do everything within my power not to scribble proofing marks in red pen all over the book's crisp white pages.

Yours sincerely,

P.S. I wonder what the Apostrophe Protection Society would have to say about the matter.

Another blogger, Jodi of writes:
The random apostrophes are bothering me and take me right out of the story. See, he apostrophizes I’m, I’ll, I’d, and It’s, but not cant, wouldnt, aint, isnt, and dont. It drives me bonkers. I think I am paying more attention to the contractions then to the story. While reading, I’m constantly making a mental tally of the apostrophes and trying to figure out the mystery. Why do some words get them? What could possibly be the symbolism? Does anyone have any idea why he did this?
Jordan Lapp reckons with some justification that McCarthy is resorting to what he calls Stupid Pet Tricks to get attention, and takes issue with his use (or lack thereof) of other punctuation marks.

But it's Sam Leith on the Telegraph blog who really gets it right about The Road:
Why, for example, is his vision of the apocalypse one in which the imaginary holocaust seems to have destroyed apostrophes? This is hard core stuff. ... These people don't just need gasoline and tinned food: they need punctuation.
Now I can live with the short choppy sentences, the incomplete sentences that present themselves as sentences, and the dropping of colons and semi-colons. The paucity of commas holds no fears for me. (Peter Carey didn't use a single one in True History of the Kelly Gang, recreating the voice of an unschooled man, based on the style of Ned Kelly's own writing.) And I'm perfectly happy to see inverted commas dropped from dialogue anyway.

But please, Mr. McCarthy, hands off the apostrophes.

Maybe Oprah can set you right when she interviews your reclusive self on her show tomorrow (only the third one ever). But then again, I think she (or whoever writes her publicity blurbs) might be apostrophically challenged too:
Oprah's Book Club has approximately one million online members. Each of it’s selections have skyrocketed to the top of bestsellers lists.
Punctuation aside, McCarthy's novel is very well worth reading, if harrowing. I'm reviewing it so will post more about it later.


Anonymous said...

The Road is boring.

No Country For Old Men is better.

Oprah Book Club sucks.

I consciously avoid books with OBC stickers.


Ted Mahsun said...

So! Not just a post-apocalyptic novel, but also a post-apostrophic novel. I must get it!

btw, I am currently reading another recent post-apocalyptic novel... "Bila Tuhan Berbicara" by Faisal Tehrani.

*cue horror music*

nel said...

I don't really know much, but I have read somewhere that those apostrophes does give more space to the flowing of creativity when a person write. Then again, it's just my 2cent worth of comment, because I am not really a good writer myself ... lol ... :)

Obiter Dictum said...

I have found missing punctuations a little tedious, the mind stops to re-read and correct them before continuing. hamper flow.

Greenbottle said...


i won't touch any book with oprah' sticker on it...i'm a very prejudiced person and i don't care .

no country for old men...well i'm a coen brothers' fan...anything touched by these jewish boys are very fine by me...

and ted,

i'm impressed with you reading feisal tehrani...

Anonymous said...

yeah, the book is a great thriller. i am loving every page of it. cant wait for the movie.


SecretHistory said...

Sharon I have my theory of the missing apostrophes.

Cormac McCarthys writing room was invaded by the Apostrophe Vyrus from Jasper Ffordes books. Thursday Next coundnt kill these vyrus fast enough. So only certain apostrophes were eaten while the rest were spared.

Argus Lou said...

Pre-Apocalyptic Apostrophe Catastrophe, Bib. Yikes indeed!

(I once bought a copy of 'The Mango Tree' - Australian author, sorry I forget the name - and found so many obvious typo errors I returned it to the bookseller but forgot to take my money back. Ouch. I wonder now whether it was a copy for proof-reading.)

P.S. I too try to avoid buying books with the OBC sticker. Ya, don't want to buy into that kind of mass influence either.

Chet said...

Y'all won't touch books with the OBC sticker? Apparently, if not for the OBC sticker, such classics as One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, As I Lay Dying, A Light in August, The Sound and The Fury, The Good Earth, East of Eden, Cry, The Beloved Country and even Anna Karenina would not have found a new generation of readers.

Check out OBC'd titles here.

Mass influence? Or mass readership for good books?

bibliobibuli said...

visitor and greenbottle - i tend to side with chet, below re. obc. but we keep having this conversation! mind you, i don't like to feel i'm moving with the herd either

viz - i do understand WHY you found the book boring - it is certainly repetitive, but personally i found it hard to put down and read it in a couple of days. it left me feeling very knocked about and angry with all those bloody idiots who build nuclear weapons or destroy the environment

hope to read mccarthy's other books before too long and will look out for that one, viz

ted - post-apostrophic? absolutely brilliant coinage. i laughed out loud when i read that.

nel - when i teach my creative writing class i tell my participants to chuck punctuation out the window along with grammar and spelling - for the first draft. but woe and betide any of them who don't proofread carefully before
submitting their final assignment! i think mccarthy is just stamping his individual style on the book, but it adds nothing and as obiter dictum says above, it is a big distraction.

secret history - right. that must be it.

argus lou - is this the book by ronald mckie who won the miles franklin in 1974? wonder if anyone else has taken a book back because of typos? wonder what would happen if you tried that with cormac mccarthy's book???

Anonymous said...

i guarantee you, No Country is absolutely absorbing.

Chet, i disagree. i am sure some folks saw the OBC sticker on SOund and Fury, thot "oh, must be really inspirational and whatnot, cos Oprah endorses it", bought it, read it, then went "fuck this crap!" and never picks up another Faulkner ever again.


Chet said...

Vhat, Viz?

*turning down the sound to avoid the fury*

Anonymous said...

Vhat vhat vhat???

Viz Viz Viz

Argus Lou said...

Yes, yes, Bib. Ronald McKie it was!

I felt so annoyed, thought Australian had higher standards, blah, blah, blah; a publisher received a lit grant to reprint 'The Mango Tree' but perhaps stinged on the proof-reading etc. Wanted to write a strongly worded letter to the publisher, cc-ing a copy to whatever publishing/literary association in Australia -- but of course never got 'a round toit'. ;-P

And, FYI, I bought the book from a nice bookshop in Old Town PJ so Mr T now owes me a book. Heh.

Obiter Dictum said...

I agree with chet. Anyone who brings good books to the mass attention is doing a good job.

Some of the books deserve a place in the pedestal.

val martino said...

The inconsistent use of apostraphes is irritating, but what really chaps my hide is the typo on page 35, second paragraph. He spells "dessert" wrong. One of my pet peeves, desert instead of dessert.
Other than that, loved the concept and was totally drawn into the story.

bibliobibuli said...

which edition do you have, val? i looked for it in mine and it wasn't the same page. but that is a terrible typo! who was the editor and was he/she asleep?

Lisa said...

Thank you! I'm googling it myself and thought there had to be some deep symbolic reason for their omission. As a teacher, it is a visual roadblock to come across what I view as an error.

bibliobibuli said...

it's comforting to know others feel the same way. i do love the book though and forgive it its apostrophe lapses.