Wednesday, June 17, 2009

One Big Damn Puzzler, by John Harding

One plenty damn fine book, really. Harding's work is funny in the right places, has great characters, knows its Shakespeare, and while addressing certain implications of modern society (and going a bit overboard near the final chapters) it takes itself just seriously enough. Even though I had to read it in chunks over a few weeks (this was the book I left behind when I read Neverwhere), One Big Damn Puzzler is one of my better secondhand bookshop acquisitions of late.

But I've got a small bone to pick. Harding is a British author (I can't be more specific, as his book bio and my cursory Internet research turned up nothing) whose main character in the book is an American, and the South Pacific island where this character spends most of the book was, shall we say, graced by the American military in the past. And that's all well and good. But if you're going to write about a culture that's not your own, and especially if what you write will be available in said culture, you ought to keep an eye on where you're stepping. That said, here are my first* Tips for British Authors Writing About Americans:
  • Watch your word usage. We don't call them "trousers." We call them "pants." There's a reason we distinguish between "American English" and "British English."
  • Be careful portraying the Americans as a negative foreign influence on an indigenous population. (I'm looking at you, John Harding.) Yes, we've been guilty of that, probably to a terrifying degree. But suggesting that the British simply wanted to build a hotel and leave the natives in peace kind of ignores a certain long imperial history with a few "whoopsie-daisies" of its own.
I'm as much an Anglophile as anyone. But it's amazing what living abroad (in my case, England and Germany) can do for your pride in your own country. The United States of America is definitely not perfect. But at least get us right, people.
*In time, I'm sure there will be more.


  1. how funny, i bought this book at a used bookstore in colorado. of course i haven't gotten past the first few pages, but "that is the question" being changed to "one big damn puzzler" is pretty brilliant if you ask me...

  2. Yeah...what you said lol. Please tell me that he got the "sweater/jumper" thing right if it came up at all.

  3. Lex, I think that is be pretty damn brilliant, too. Hamlet isn't as big a part of the book as I wanted it to be... but it's fun to watch as that translation progresses.

    Bin Bin, I don't remember if that one came up. But there were a few instances of British/American mix-ups, so I wouldn't be shocked.

  4. Ah I see, thanks for that haha.