Meeting Mr Smird

I am reading (or perhaps rereading, parts of it sound very familiar) Anne Fadiman’e2’80’99s EX LIBRIS (subtitled, Confessions of a Common Reader, although from page one it is clear that this reader is anything but common.) It is, obviously, about her passion for books, about such topics as the difference between a courtly book lover (who uses a bookmark) and a carnal book lover (who argues on, corrects, dog-ears, and even rips to pieces the pages,) the urge to read a book or author at the place most connected with said book or author, and the collecting habits of devout sesquipedalians.

She has, as you might guess, a chapter on compulsive proof-reading, the sorts of things about which the book EATS, SHOOTS AND LEAVES was written. Examples of typos from ads and Holy Writ (Thou shalt commit adultery) are scattered joyously through the pages, including the thoughtful and musical, ‘e2’80’9cEinstein’e2’80’99s Theory of Relativity led to the Big Band Theory.’e2’80’9d

When I was first getting started in this writing business’e2’80’94before it was a business for me, in fact, back when it was still just an illicit pleasure (illicit because it cost the family both time and money)’e2’80’94and my typing skills were so bad the pages were more Wite Out than ink (remember typewriters?) I used to have my manuscripts typed by a friend. Of course my handwriting was never great, and because when I was first starting I never really thought of the pages as being for anyone’e2’80’99s eyes but my own, I didn’e2’80’99t bother making trying to make them more legible.

But still. One of the high points of that period was in the typescript of THE BEEKEEPER’S APPRENTICE. The book, for those of you who need a reminder or who stumbled on this blog thinking it belonged to the other Laurie King, is about one Mary Russell, who in the spring of 1915, dressed in her father’e2’80’99s hand-me-downs, is walking the downs of England’e2’80’99s southern coastland when she literally stumbles across the retired detective Sherlock Holmes. They trade insults for a while, as strangers are apt to do, challenge each other to a duel of wits, and then when the bored and distracted Holmes refers to Mary as ‘e2’80’9che’e2’80’9d she blows up and declare with adolescent outrage, ‘e2’80’9cIt’e2’80’99s a good thing you did retire, if that’e2’80’99s all that’e2’80’99s left of the great detective’e2’80’99s mind,’e2’80’9d and triumphantly whips off her concealing hat to reveal a pair of long blonde braids. Score one for Mary Russell, her first victory in a precious few.

Except that when the typescript came back to me, it had been vastly improved by Gretchen’e2’80’99s misreading of my scrawl on the page. Russell’e2’80’99s withering response, her full-throated adolescent battle-cry, now reached the climactic declaration: ‘e2’80’9cIt’e2’80’99s a good thing you did retire, if that’e2’80’99s all that’e2’80’99s left of the great detective Smird!’e2’80’9d

Posted in


  1. R.J. Anderson on May 7, 2005 at 3:43 pm

    *dies laughing*

    Oh, that’s BEAUTIFUL. I love it.

    I just re-read Ex Libris last week, coincidentally enough. A friend had sent it to me a couple of years back and I very much enjoyed it, both times. My favorite typo of the essay you mentioned, indeed possibly my favorite printing error of all time, was the one about Camilla being Prince Charles’ power mower…

  2. Kathleen Lowe on May 7, 2005 at 5:59 pm

    Hi–here a brief story regarding punctuation–after enduring years of the good sisters condemning the evils of the run-on-sentence, I found it highly ironic to discover that the patron saint of this grammatical evil is none other than St. Paul,(yes, the one who wrote the letters). Just try reading one of the epistles out loud. He could write entire chapters using only three periods.
    When I became a lector in my parish church I realized the only way to make sense of Paul was to add my own punctuation and trust that the good Lord would understand my audacity in attempting to make improvements to his Book.

  3. Erin on May 8, 2005 at 8:39 pm

    *snickering* Smird! That’s awesome.

    That book sounds quite interesting. Ex Libris, I mean, not Beekeepers. Beekeepers is quite interesting as well, but as I’ve read it four times it is not the book that I meant to reference as being newly interesting.

    But yeah, it totally reminds me of a friend of mine. She is going to be starting graduate study in library sciences this fall and she has been interning as a manuscript editor for the past six months or so. We affectionately refer to her as our favorite grammar whore. She has editted every major paper I’ve had to write and I don’t know what I would do without her. Ex Libris sounds like a wonderful ‘yay for grad school!’ gift=)

    Hehe…Smird. I’m not going to be able to get over that.

  4. Anonymous on May 8, 2005 at 11:58 pm

    I just listened to that very portion of Beekeeper yesterday! I always travel with a Russell/Holmes because it is like having a friend along. I will never read/hear that sentence the same. Sounds like a detective created by Dr Seuss!

  5. Rebecca on May 9, 2005 at 12:21 am

    Actually, Smird sounds like it could be a good name for a character sometime… ::files it away, chuckling::

  6. Becca on May 9, 2005 at 4:22 am

    Oh wow. I was laughing for a long time from that one. Smird! It’s just a great sounding name, too. On a similar line, I know someone who accidentally typed Fraud instead of Freud on a psych paper. Her professor inquired as to whether it was a Freudian slip.

  7. Dahra on May 9, 2005 at 12:28 pm

    1) I once owned a slip (i.e., dress-like undergarment) which was white silk with tiny pictures of Freud all over it. It has, alas, gone to the great lingerie bag in the sky, but I wish I could find another.

    2) The early spell-check programs were prone to fits of madness. When I wrote my senior paper for my B.A. (on Romeo and Juliet) my computer kept trying to disrupt their romance with a feud between the Mortgages and the Capsules. (I believe I managed to turn it in with none of these errors left, but I’m not sure.)

  8. Linda on May 10, 2005 at 12:01 pm

    Oh Dahra – a Freudian slip….that is too too wonderful!! What fun it would be to have one.

    linda in delaware

Leave a Comment