Bill O'Reilly, TV commentator, attempts to be a scholar in his new book, Killing Lincoln, but the text is so riddled with errors and inaccuracies that one of the bookstores at Ford's Theatre is refusing to carry it. Some of the most egregious errors include numerous references to Lincoln working in the Oval Office, which didn't even exist at the time he was president. (It was built decades later.) O'Reilly also gets his dates wrong several times, including the burning of the original Ford's Theatre, and repeats a theory dismissed long ago by true Lincoln historians that Secretary of War Edward Stanton was involved in the assassination plot. We won't mention the poor overall writing quality (O'Reilly has Lincoln "furl" his brow -- we presume he means "furrow." Unless he had a sail on a mast perched up there. Also, O'Reilly must have figured he is above the standard that all writers of research papers from 5th grade on up are expected to meet: he offers no direct citations for any of his assertions.
Read more here and here.
Like I said, mistakes and misinformation pull me out of a story faster than I can eat a handful of M&Ms -- and believe me, I can eat them pretty fast. I recently picked up the novel Outside of the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller. The opening grabbed me -- but her first flashback is set in 1968, involving a family moving from Chicago to California. They are traveling along I-80 in Nebraska. Whoa! I-80 was not completed across Nebraska until 1974. Yes, there were sections of I-80 open in 1968 -- but a family on the move from Chicago to California would probably not have opted to try to drive an incomplete road through the middle of the Great Plains. The still-preferred choice of travelers headed West in 1968 was the Mother Road, Route 66. My own family tooled along that fabulous highway in 1968 on the standard "Grand Canyon or bust" vacation. We attended a Sunday morning mass in Joplin, Missouri, gorged on Big Boy burgers in Amarillo, Texas, sweated and baked through New Mexico, and ogled the Painted Desert at sunset like the slack-jawed city-slickers we were.
So I guess I just couldn't accept the notion that this family in the novel would have been on some half-completed I-80 in the middle of Nebraska. Just wasn't happening. Again, where's an editor when you need one?!? I stopped reading, put the book back on the shelf and bought a copy of George Orwell's 1984 instead. Seems like a good time to revisit that world.
As a librarian, I pride myself on providing my library patrons with accurate, up-to-date information in all forms -- which recently meant pitching all the nonfiction books that referred to Pluto as a "planet" and purchasing new titles which referenced its new status as a "dwarf planet." That's just one example.
So it pains me when I read fiction that plays fast and loose with facts. I am perfectly willing to hand myself over to the author's universe, but if you are writing realistic fiction, make sure you get it right -- or you risk pulling me out of your story. Case in point: The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. The novel is set in Seattle during both the early 1940s and 1984 as it tells its Romeo and Juliet tale of a Chinese-American boy and Japanese-American girl who experience first love amidst the Japanese internment after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
My problem with this novel? It makes several references to the protagonist's son going "online" in 1984 and finding his father's long-lost love through a short "Internet search." Sorry -- this just wasn't even a remote possibility in 1984. The author, who was questioned about this on his own blog, talks about going online in 1984 with Compuserve for $100 per hour. Yeah, that was a possibility -- but the "online" on 1984 was not the "online" of today -- or even 10 years ago. Where's an editor when you need one? I found myself shaking my head as I was reading the story -- saying "nope, wouldn't happen."
Now, middle school students -- who really seem to be the audience for this novel -- probably wouldn't even think twice about it -- for them, the world has always been online. But for those of us of "a certain age," it just cried out for a re-write and a more plausible situation.
Authorial laziness? Maybe. Editorial laziness? Definitely!
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