Errors in books: can you get past them?

Like many other people, I was taught at school and university not just to read, but to question and critique what I’m actually reading. One of the most common self-reflection questions I see in work-related continuing education is, ‘How will reading this article change your practice?’ It’s hard for me to get away from that when I read for fun, because a tiny part of my brain is still trying to have a quick answer to that question. It’s also difficult because in my work life, I’m trained to hone in on errors and perfect them. But when I see an error in a fiction book, sometimes I need to step back and ask myself, is it really that important?

Now I’m not saying that all books should be fact checked meticulously and researched until the research is worthy of a PhD. That would make for fewer books in the world and nobody wants that. What bugs me is something that’s easily Google-able by the lay person. Character name mix ups – I can deal with that. Typos – par for the course these days. It’s factual errors (that haven’t been altered on purpose to make an even more awesome story) that can rile me.

Many, many years ago I had an author that I enjoyed. I’d read several of her books and had the rest on my TBR shelf. There was a scene where the heroine’s husband had been in a major accident and one of the medical team yelled, ‘He’s crashing! What’s his blood pressure?’ The response was – ‘Really low – 180/110!’ Now Google will tell you that a reading of 180/110 mm Hg is actually high blood pressure, not low! My younger self dropped that book like a hotcake and gave the author’s books away, but is that too harsh a punishment? At the time, I simply couldn’t get past that error. Never mind that I’d loved this author before, the bond had been broken.

Nowadays, I’m more likely to keep reading and tell myself that if it’s not a crucial part of the story to get over it and move on. I might have a whinge about it to some colleagues and friends but I wouldn’t call an author or editor out over it. Why? They’ve got more important things to do like making sure the overall story is as best as it can be. Plus I’m not an expert in the writing world, so who am I to criticise? A deal breaker would be an error that’s repeated many times throughout the book. Fortunately, I haven’t come across a novel like that for a long time.

What about you? Do factual errors irritate you? Or can you switch off your professional knowledge to enjoy the story?

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7 thoughts on “Errors in books: can you get past them?

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  1. They irritate me too, especially in books written in the last few years because you know that the author goes online so why don’t they look stuff up? It’s easier than ever before.

  2. They irritate me, more so because information is so accessible nowadays that they really don’t need to be there. It’s kind of evidence to me of lazy writing and I usually can’t get past it. Harsh, but true!

  3. I dislike any sort of errors except the occasional typo. Although I feel these should be picked up too. Apostrophes for ownership are my pet grammatical error.
    Several years ago a biography of an important person was recommended to me. The same people lent it to me. I had lived in the small town where most of the biography was set and couldn’t believe the number of errors the author had made. I couldn’t continue reading it as I was getting quite angry. I returned it, with thanks and an explanation of why I hadn’t read it all. Sadly people will read this book and because it is a biography believe all that is written.

  4. I find this a problem more for non-fiction, I think because I have a psychology background, generally full on psychology books are ok but it’s ‘pop psychology’ I have issues with because I can look at it with some background knowledge, so when they make conclusions I tend to think ‘yes…but…’. I even put it in my review policy because I can be a bit over critical of those types of books.

  5. For me it depends on how big an error. I read one book where the author, as many do, made up a town for the story to take place in. They called this town Manchester MO and put it outside of Columbia MO, which is in the middle of the state. The problem is, Manchester MO really does exist, and has for over a hundred years, in St. Louis County (I live in the unincorporated part right next to it). This bugged me so much, that I could not enjoy the book in the slightest and could have been easily fixed with a Google search (as could of another factual error).

  6. Like everyone else who has commented, I too am irritated when I see factual errors in books. If it is fiction, then I immediately think that the writer hasn’t done their research – but it is not a deal breaker. However, if it is a non-fiction book I loose all trust in the author, after all, if they got one thing wrong that I KNOW is wrong, how many other things in the book maybe wrong but I don’t know about them.

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