Saturday, 1 February 2014


He loiters in the corner of the reference section, long white splotched fingers worrying the edge of his wax scented anorak. The sound of the material rubbing makes the assistant grit her teeth. She raises her eyes to glare at him over the register. He blinks at her and clutches his pocket tightly. Swallowing, he turns his back to her and stares at the rows of thesauri towering above him.

Dark and shady. The best habitat for me. If you want to see me in my natural state head to your local library (R.A.R.Y, there’s no E.R in the middle), or bookshop or, hell, even supermarkets these days. You’ll find me loitering in the forgotten corners of the reference (now there’s an E.R) section: those endless rows on rows of thick dominating books…

He wonders: How long has it been? He half forms the question and so emits a low moan. His fingers scrabble in his pocket, not relaxing until he feels the ridged cap of the bottle. Sweat is brewing in his hairline; he wipes it off with the back of his hand. A pen is clutched in his white-knuckled grip.  He shuffles along the row to his favourite: Concise Oxford.

You can smell the staleness of words in those books, which is strange because if words should live anywhere it should be in there, arranged as they are in their high rise columns (that’s a U after the L not an O) surrounded by gardens of explanations and definitions…

Moistening damp lips he reaches out; his movements are swift, sudden. He pulls a book from the shelf, it falls to the floor belly up. He is on his knees, scrabbling to the front. The smell of chemicals lingers over the pages. He counts thirty-five measured seconds, no more, no less. Perfect timing. The book is in his hands and back on the shelf and he is bobbing his apologies to the assistant heading over to him. And he is out again, blinking in the afternoon glow of the city.

Maybe that is why they grow stagnant, why people avoid them - too intent on finding the predictable thrill of suburban literature. Not me. I thrive in everyone’s disinterest. Ignorant fools, they have no idea of the value of the books they buy but never read. Just think, every other book is read completely. Every single word savoured and devoured. Not these. These books lead a half life. Condemned (it’s an N not another M) to have a word read every few months or even years. What else is a book good for, if not reading? Gathering dust. That’s good for nothing…

He was troubled by it even as a boy. Pudgy fingers tracing the large Eiffel tower shape and then hesitating. Always hesitating over the little one, the baby. It looks wrong. It feels wrong. How did it get there?

Call me obsessive if you like (two S’s, one B). Many do. I’m not obsessive. I just like things to be right. I like things to make sense. I don’t understand why no one will take me seriously. I deserve to be taken seriously. If I see a mistake I have to correct it. That makes me a good person, a decent person. Just think what this world would be like if everyone corrected the mistakes they see. What a beautiful world (don’t forget the A).

He wrote his first letter at the age of fourteen. It was polite, courteous and was (in his view) completely on the side of reason. He received a reply a month later. They thanked him for the letter, sent him a book voucher and wished him well in his future career as (they had no doubt) an editor. Encouraged, he wrote to every publisher and eagerly bought new editions. The amendment wasn’t made.

Dear Sir

My name is Daniel Harvey. I am a great fan of the books you do. However I have to point out a serious error. You have misspelled Ardvark and assigned it an extra A. This is a common mistake, but I am sure if you look closely at the word then it will become obvious that such a spelling is preposterous.

Yours, in anticipation of future good spelling,


And so he continues. Armed with tip-ex and a pen, roaming the reference section of all book retailers: a one man crusade to right the word that was once spelt wrong, and never, ever corrected.


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