Monday, February 07, 2011

The Perilous Offence: It Smelt of Americanization

Or what colour is a football?

I’m just finishing up Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) and I can’t help but be annoyed at the apparent level of Americanization that occurs in this book. For a background, Midnight Riot is set in London and features a rookie cop who is thrown into some rather interesting events that may or may not involve magic (okay, they do involve magic, but that’s not the issue). Throughout what has been a largely enjoyable read, I keep getting yanked out of the flow of the story by what appears to be the American cleansing of a British novel (did you spot the pun?).

For example, the main protagonist mentions his love of soccer several times during the book and discusses it once or twice. Really? Someone raised in a rougher part of London likes soccer? I’m pretty certain it’s called football ‘round those parts. Even the title was scrubbed a bit – Midnight Riot is published as Rivers of London in the UK. Now, a there could be a whole separate debate on which title is more appropriate – each is both somewhat appropriate and rather out of place based on the content of the book, but Midnight Riot seems to me to be much more generic. As a reader, a book called Rivers of London peaks my curiosity, but Midnight Riot – no interest there. If it weren’t for some positive buzz I’ve seen elsewhere from trusted sources, I’d have let this book fly right by.

I can except that when a book crosses the pond that Queen’s English spelling gets shifted to American English. That’s fine – after all, I read American English. But I think it takes things too far when the colloquialisms of language become effected. I want to feel the atmosphere of a book, and when a born-and-raised Londoner speaks of soccer all sorts of flags go off, destroying that carefully crafted atmosphere. Most books I read that originated in the UK don’t scrub so thoroughly, so that’s probably why this one stands out so much.

Why? Does Del Rey see this one having such mass appeal that they need to dumb it down? Is it even necessary to dumb down a British book for the masses of the US? I think a tremendous disservice was done to the readers here, and to the author as well who put so much work into creating an atmosphere that feels like the streets of London.

So, good readers, what do you think of all this?


Kerry said...

That's a bit depressing to hear. I have the US version and I already prefer the UK cover and title, so to hear the text has been changed to is very disappointing. Maybe I'll look for a UK edition in the library.

BW said...

We definitely don't need Americanization. My two young daughters, having read Harry Potter, know all kinds of British terms. Just yesterday one of them asked if we'd gotten any post.

I'd think most Americans would also smell a rat if the word soccer appeared in such context.

Ted Cross said...

You are right that the Brits use 'football' now, but you might be interested if you looked up the origins of the word 'soccer'. The Brits both invented it and used it quite commonly for awhile. We Americans got it from the Brits precisely because of that. It's not our fault that the Brits then later evolved away from using their own word.

K.C. Shaw said...

That's what I was afraid of. I went ahead and ordered my copy from the UK through Powell's even though it cost me a lot more than the MMPB would have if I'd picked it up here in the US. I'm glad I did. I love the original title and cover, and no one's "fixed" the text for me. I'm reading it now and really enjoying it, and the Britishisms are actually adding a lot of flavor (or flavour even) to the read.

Woodge said...

Changing colloquial British to American English is just a bad idea all around. First, I WANT to read the colloquial British! It's part of the fun! Second, changing the terms often has the effect of yanking you right out of the story by calling attention to itselt. Third, it's insulting to the readers. I KNOW that Americans are the only country that call it soccer. I know the difference between a Brit being pissed and an American being pissed (and in this case, it's the latter). I even know a good smattering of rhyming Cockney slang. That all adds to the book. By changing it, the publisher is degrading it. If they are that concerned about losing things in translation, add a glossary. Give the reader some credit. Also, I can accept that cover art changes from country to country, but honestly, Rivers of London is a much better title than Midnight Riot. I don't understand the reasoning behind that title change.

Neth said...

First, I do want to be clear that I don't actually know how much of the colloquial language was altered - it may have been nothing beyond soccer, but I doubt it.

@BW - did your kids read American or British editions of Harry Potter? It's my understanding that Harry Potter was altered a fair bit as well - in the very least The Philospher's Stone became The Sorceror's Stone.

@Ted, I actually did know that soccer orginated in Britain, though I don't see how that is relevent at all since it's not a term in common use anymore. It seems a bit mis-guided to defend these sort of changes because Queen's English has evolved a bit differently than American English.

Sascha Walter said...

It always annoys me when the Americans change these kind of things in books. And I am not even British, but German!! But even I know (through watching television and movies) what the Brits call football (or sometimes footie) and what the Americans mean by saying football. The publishers probably thought not many Americans would know the difference between the two meanings. But even so it is sad that other people decide what one is capable of knowing or learning.

Liz said...

Ah, thanks Neth. I was thinking of getting the US copy of this to check it out as I obviously read - and LOVED!! - the UK copy. I did ask around if this would be changed, making it less Ingerish but no one could answer. Apparently it was bought as the editors loved how British it was. And then they change it so much - maybe it is trying to make it easier for their audience who may not be au fait with colloquial English?


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