In Italo Calvino’s book If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, the insertion of incorrect signatures by a publisher into its brand new book is one of the many comic mishaps that propel the plot of his highly literary novel. Wordy word games and writerly jokes are common features at play in Calvino’s writings. He assumes his readers know the rules of the book game, where the wrong set of pages causes a red face for the author, egg on face for the publisher, and a range of emoticons on the faces of readers.
This week on Atlantis (e-list of the American Theological Library Association) the same mishap is reported in the book Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy ( IVP Academic, 2006). That it took eight years for someone to notice might say something about the popularity of this book, and we wonder that the author’s friends didn’t say something before, but still Angela G. Morris at the E.M.White Library of Louisville Seminary in Kentucky writes: “Pages 65–96 of our copy is … 65-96 from a book entitled Myths and mysteries of the Old West and includes text about George Armstrong Custer, Sitting Bull and The Mountain Meadows Massacre. All very interesting, but not on the topic of the main text of the book.”
The beauty of e-lists is that clarification comes quickly. Other librarians soon wrote in about their copies. It seems the original hardback of 2006 is okay. Some libraries ordered the paperback of 2010, which is the one with the wrong pages. IVP apparently is hard at work sending replacement copies on request. One hopes that any e-book version has been scanned or copied from the original in the computer. If not, there is also the added problem of correct identification of page numbering.
Those stuck with the only copy of such a book, unable to find a replacement, are faced with a quandary. To remove the book from the collection is to stop access to the genuine contents found in the other pages. To keep it on the shelf unremarked is to further the confusion. If you do not decide that the book is simply a dud, it is useful common practice to write on the flyleaf and/or title page of the book full details of the exact discrepancy. At least then everyone knows and the Library is free of blame. The other thing to do is advise the publisher, if the book is recent.
There is another side to this story as well. While some of us rush to read Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy, others rush to collect the same book because it contains pages 65–96 of Myths and mysteries of the Old West. As one e-lister wryly noted, it sounds like a future collectible. Well, maybe, maybe not. But it reminds me of the incredible flurry that surrounded the release in Australia of one of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Queues once formed along the streets, waiting for the bookshops to open selling first signed copies of new titles in the series. It was a reminder that this sort of readers’ clamour didn’t end with Charles Dickens. Unbeknownst to the sellers and buyers, page one of this particular installment of Harry Potter had a printer’s orphan. Because Australia is such an extraordinarily long way from England, even for jet aircraft, and because first release copies are released on the same day worldwide, and because Australia wakes up first to the morning sun, the publishers discovered too late that their initial print-run would have to be recalled and pulped. Only Australians got to snaffle the limited issue. Thus, by force of the market and the tyranny of distance, some very happy Melbourne buyers keep their rare Rowlings on the shelf, there to grow in value with time.