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?