Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Oxford typo

I know the text above is small: I scanned it so that there could be no question about the accuracy of my transcription, which follows:
18. In an article in the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, June 18, 2007, by line Penny Wolfe. Brown was listed as House’s 77-year-old son-in-law, but he was his ‘step’-son-in-law having been married to one of Evie Goff’s daughters by her first marriage. Even that relationship is complicated since both of Evie natural daughters, Bea and Sally, moved to Detroit in the late forties.

Daniel Beaumont, Preachin’ the Blues: The Life and Times of Son House (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).
How many ways does this footnote go wrong?

1. By line should be one word: byline.

2. “Brown was listed as House’s 77-year-old son-in-law, but he was his ‘step’-son-in-law”: slight pronoun trouble. A better way to manage it: “Listed as House’s 77-year-old son-in-law, Brown was in truth a ‘step’-son-in-law.”

3. It’s not clear where Brown is “listed.” If the period after Penny Wolfe’s name is supposed to be a comma, it would be more accurate to say that Brown is identified, &c.

4. Commas are missing after ‘step’-son-in-law and complicated. Punctuation is a problem throughout the book, with necessary commas often missing after introductory subordinate clauses, before and after non-restrictive modifiers, and from citations.

5. The apostrophe and s are missing from Evie natural daughters.

6. Commercial-Appeal might be a mistake. Every reference I’ve seen to the newspaper elsewhere (from the recent and distant past) has the name without a hyphen.

Carelessness runs through this biography of Son House; this footnote is just an especially glaring example. Ought a reader to expect more from a university press? From Oxford University Press? I would think so. Preachin’ the Blues has some good stories of Son House’s life and some excellent photographs. But the writing, the writing. And the editing, the editing. I’m glad I borrowed this one from the library.

If you’ve never heard Son House, here’s a great place to start.

[Post title with apologies to the Oxford comma.]

comments: 1

Elaine said...

I have noticed a lot of execrable editing (or I should say, the lack of editing) in newer books. I don't think they edit at all; cost-cutting?