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November 28, 2004 -That's using the old loaf!

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Book Wrangler

November 28, 2004

By Bob Patterson


That’s using the old loaf!  (That’s Cockney rhyming slang that means, “That’s using your head.”)


In the age when Internet pages are available simultaneously to the readers in England, Australia, and the United States, publishing a book in the English language should be a relatively easy endeavor.  It should; but don’t bet on it.


A case in point would be Francis Wheen’s new book, titled How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World:  A Short History of Modern Delusions ( 7.99 [not €?] Paperback Perennial [That translates into $14.62] published October 4, 2004)


It is available in the US as Idiot Proof: Deluded Celebrities, Irrational Power Brokers, Media Morons, and the Erosion of Common Sense ($25 Hardcover Public Affairs, published June 1, 2004) in the United States.


The two different titles are not the only difference - the index was changed.  In Great Britain, the index was a remarkable achievement that got Martin Ince in the New Scientist to call it “the index of the year,” but for the American audience, it was changed to a much more inferior version.


Apparently this Guardian columnist chap, Francis Wheen, has a weird hypothesis about the possibility that modern thinking is retreating from the Enlightenment values back to a Middle Ages religious based way of looking at things.  [Editor's Note: see November 28, 2004 - The Triumph of Idealism in this issue.]


Author Wheen goes off on a Don Quixote search for evidence leaving some skeptics scratching their heads and wondering if he wouldn’t be better off looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.  Apparently he thinks the world has gone downhill since the Ayatollah Khomeini, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan all came to power at approximately the same point in time and that they caused a change in world history. 


His attempt at international intellectual mind manipulation has spawned at least 22 reviews including the Complete Review’s complete review that assessed the effort as “entertaining” and linked their online readers to other critical evaluations.


You might think that prose in English is English prose (the old “a prose is a prose is a prose” deal) and that shouldn’t present any problems, but you’d be wrong.  There are two very different styles of editing in each country.  None of the commentary on the two books delved into that thorny problem.  Apparently neither the America nor the British way of thinking applies “down under” and that complicates editing matters even more.  Last year a collection of the best horror stories (Gathering the Bones) from England, the United States, and Australia was published and each of the regional editors, Ramsey Cambell in Great Britain, Dennis Etchison in the USA, and Jack Dann in Australia, had to edit the book for the edition published in their country, according to a reliable source. 


They had to regionalize the thinking on such arcane matters as putting a question mark inside or outside the quotation marks if the quote isn’t a question but is contained in a sentence that is.  An example would be:  Did Abraham Lincoln say:  “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”?  American editors would have it end like this:  “ . . . country?”  It’s become a concrete example of the old adage: “different punctuation strokes for different folks.”


The reviewers of the Wheen work castigated the inferior American index but apparently ignored the thorny issue raised by the likelihood of regionalized editing. 


[While we were fact checking the particulars for this week’s Book Wrangler, we noticed that one particularly well known online bookseller was offering a special combo deal for those who might want to buy (what apparently was) the same book with the two different regional titles and covers.]


The Book Wrangler hasn’t read the Wheen book yet, but until we see if we can find a copy at the Santa Monica Public Library, we can only pray that the Lord will lift the veil of confusion and doubt from that Brit’s mind and help him to see the light and put him on the path to righteous thinking.   


What will happen if he doesn’t change his mind?  Will his sequel be some convoluted thinking tracing the responsibility for the Abu Ghraib prison debacle back to a memo from Thomas de Torquemada?


On a lighter note, we will supply some gift suggestions for possible use during the current one-month consumer book-buying blitz.


The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker edited by Robert Mankoff with a forward by David Remnick ($60 Hardcover - Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, published October 5, 2004) is 656 pages with 2,004 cartoons from the famous weekly magazine augmented by two CD’s that contain the complete collection.  This volume should be a great (and rather heavy) stocking stuffer for humor fans this holiday.


Playboy: 50 Years: The Cartoons by Hugh M. Hefner  ($50 Chronicle Books) should also please the cartoon connoisseurs.  The best were selected for inclusion in this retrospective collection.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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