I’m just sitting here watching the little running-man figure that represents my husband on the handy live-tracking feature cruise his way to 40k and beyond in the Boston Marathon. Because he is All That And A Bag of Chips, so he is.
You might think if I really loved and supported him we’d all be there waving banners and shouting ourselves hoarse, but we’ve done that before and to be honest, big marathons aren’t great to support at because there are so many people you might easily miss the one you came for and then you’ve dragged two children all over a strange city for not much and everyone’s grumpy and too hot/wet/cold/hungry. I blogged about it before, if you want to know how it goes.
But I’m here to complain about something else. If you’re American (and you haven’t read my rant about Harry Potter), it might come as news to you that books published in the US that were originally written and published in the UK or Ireland or pretty much any other English-speaking country are always re-edited for US publication. That’s why you pretty much never see “colour” or “realise” or “jewellery” or “pyjamas” in print, and might not even know for a long time that they’re legitimate spellings in other parts of the world. But it’s worse than that: they don’t just change the spellings. They change the words too. They “fix” the words so that the American audience isn’t confused by trousers or footpaths or bin men or woolly jumpers.
They might even want to change “all that and a bag of chips” up there to a bag of french fries. I don’t know if they’d bother to ask me about it.
I’ve always been aware that there was such a thing as a US edition, because I was the sort of child who would read every word, including the boilerplate text on the second page where they tell you where and when it was published and which imprint it is and sometimes even what font was used. I noticed that all my books contained a copyright notice that began “Except in the United States of America…” and some blatantly stated “This edition not for sale in the United States of America.” If you’d never seen that, you wouldn’t even know there were separate editions at all – and US books do not have a similar line implying that they’re not for UK (etc.) audiences.
But I do think they’ve stepped it up recently, as some of my friends have suggested when I get annoyed on Facebook about changes made to books that just sound ridiculous. I’m reading a Marian Keyes (Last Chance Saloon – I already own it in Dublin) that I picked up at the thrift store. It’s not my only US edition Marian Keyes, because my collection is large and garnered from both Here and There, but this one has had some really painfully out-of-place changes made to it. The characters are Irish, living in London. In the first couple of chapters I’ve already come across references to the “garbage collector”, the “closet” and “liquor store”: none of these ring true, to say the least. Even if it’s the narrator’s voice rather than a direct statement, the characters would not be thinking about anything in these terms and the result for this reader is about as distracting as the CLANG of a dropped anvil.
If you’re wondering, a garbage collector is a bin man, a closet is a cupboard or a press, and a liquor store is an off-licence. It’s true that the average American might not immediately understand those terms, but then they have two options: they can ignore it and just keep reading, or they can go and find out. With the entire Internet at most readers’ disposal, that’s not much of a demand. And if publishers didn’t keep pandering to the US readers by making these changes, they might already have encountered them in other books.
Last night in bed I found the most egregious thing to date: there’s a crude joke (look away now if easily offended) about someone being nicknamed Flora because “she spreads easily”. (Flora is a brand of margarine.) Now, I know that’s what it must have said originally, but the copy I’m reading had “she opens easily”. Maybe the person who made these changes didn’t know what it meant; maybe they did but they thought that making it look like a flower reference would be a clever way to keep the joke but make it accessible with minimal changes to the wording; I don’t care. It’s wrong! It’s a liberty too far.
When I am in charge of the world, such books will have minimal changes made and a glossary or footnotes added to explain unfamiliar terms, if deemed necessary, without distracting the reader or changing the author’s voice. That’s all.
(He finished the marathon, by the way. Way to go, B the B.)