Book Review: The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Henson

In my kids’ mystery series, the protagonist’s mother is crazy about correcting grammar—to the extent that she gets distracted and lost, runs late, or loses track of all else in her life. The character, Mrs. Hollinger, is based loosely on a combination of me, my mother, and every grammar guru I know. But she was always meant to be a hyperbole. I never imagined anyone would really do such things beyond allowing a bit of internal musing about the world’s bad grammar.

A colleague of mine proved me wrong. She recommended The Great Typo Hunt because it’s about a recent college graduate who decides to take a cross-country quest, ridding the nation of bad grammar and typos along the way. I greatly enjoyed the premise of this novel. Reading it, it felt a little long at times, but I tend to be less patient when it comes to reading non-fiction (you’ll notice I review mostly fiction here).

Deck’s style made the novel enjoyable. He subtitles each chapter with an over-the-top subheading taking advantage of the mock-heroic style. He also fills his chapters with allusions, metaphors, and references that reflect his high level of education. If a reader doesn’t “get” the allusion, it’s not a big deal to move on, but the references help to add depth and enjoyment to the novel. I must admit, however, that even the clever mock-heroic style got old for me after a while. Again, I think I’m just being grumpy here because I have less patience for non-fiction.

Deck has the tools that any epic hero needs: Callie (his car), Authority (his GPS), and his “weapon,” a typo correction kit. This kit contains Wite-Out, various shades of chalk, permanent and dry-erase, and anything else Deck and his buddies need and acquire along the way. Deck’s personality also emerges through the novel. He takes a handful of companions—one at a time—on his journey with him, and each person he interacts with serves in some ways as a foil to his own character. For instance, he is much less outgoing than his main companion, Ben. When the two of them are together, Ben pushes Deck to correct more and more typos. Deck’s girlfriend, on the other hand, is much less enthusiastic about the mission, especially since it means Deck is on the road for months at a time. When she joins him for a leg of the journey, she is not as adamant about correcting typos, and Deck doubts his journey.

Through the journey, Deck also asks himself a larger question: why is this quest so important? Is it about communication? Standards? He muses on these issues as he travels. The book is copyrighted 2010 (it took place in the years prior), and Deck also expresses lots of hope for the election of Obama, making connections to an idea for increased communication as part of his typo-correcting mission. I must say here, though, that our country’s communication problem goes far beyond superficial typos and grammar errors, so I found his musings slightly superficial here–to the tune of unicorns and rainbows.

What I found most fascinating about the book were the few chapters at the end dealing with Deck’s run-in with the Federal Government. He and his buddy inadvertently vandalized a historic sign at the Grand Canyon—they thought they were simply correcting a grammatical error—and were charged and forced to appear in Federal Court, costing a total of $10,000 and accepting one year of probation during which time they waived their First Amendment, taking down their website and promising not to encourage other people to correct grammar or typos on federal or government property. The ridiculousness of that interaction, to me, reinforces my distaste for the government (mindless bureaucracy at its best—this chapter is full of irony!).

It’s a decent read, but to fully appreciate it, I think one should truly care about grammar and have a college education to understand the various references made.

This book is one of the 2014-15 Loudoun County Battle of the Books selections. The selections are as follows. Since The Scarred Letter was chosen as one of the selections, I will be attending the competition and will also be reading the rest of the selections. Books I’ve reviewed from this list are hyperlinked: