Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Lost Encyclopedia

I would love to be able to write a review dissing The Lost Encyclopedia by Tara Bennett and Paul Terry. I’d love to be able to tell you it’s absolutely no good, and instead you should just save your money and buy my Finding Lost series, or at least my Season 6 one, which analyzes and explains the finale in a 50-page section. (Well, actually, I WILL tell you that last part... if you just buy one Lost book, buy mine!.. or read on to find out how you can win a copy of the Lost Encyclopedia and then you can STILL buy mine!)

But I’m not going to tell you The Lost Encyclopedia is crap, because, quite frankly, it’s not. It’s a beautiful book that goes out of its way to service the diehard fans as well as the casual ones, offering up entries for the most obscure things on the show that may have been shown only once. It’s not perfect – more on that in a minute – but when I got my copy, I was immediately mesmerized and spent the next 20 minutes slowly flipping through the pages, not reading it, but just looking at it. Then I had to get back to work, and the minute I was done, my nose was buried in that book again.

I’ve worked in publishing for over 13 years. I don’t just write books, I edit them on all levels. I do substantive edits (that’s when you read through a book and decide if a character needs to go, or a chapter at the beginning should be moved to the end, or if the ending needs to be rewritten... big picture stuff), copy edits (looking at the copy and cleaning up the sentences, correcting grammar and typos, rewriting sections that are sloppy) and proofreads (that’s catching the final typos and mistakes that have slipped through the other parts of the process). I’ve overseen the design work and the typesetting, knowing the difficulty of fitting blocks of text on pages with several photos, and having to line up the text with the photos. I know what can fall through the cracks, such as when captions are misspelled because they were stuck in at the last minute, etc.

And that’s why I was able to look through The Lost Encyclopedia with an immense appreciation of the EXTRAORDINARY amount of work that’s gone into it. There are SO many photos, and gorgeous ones at that. The numbers are everywhere (on pages 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42, the pages are devoted to the actual number of the page, with various uses of the numbers in and outside of the show written all over the page). The books referenced on the show are all mentioned in one way or the other. There’s a FANTASTIC two-page photo spread of a bookshelf containing all of the major works that have been listed on the show. I gasped audibly when I came to that page and saw the bookshelf. What an amazing photo.

Characters who appear in one episode with one line of spoken dialogue seem to get their own entries, with a complete plot description of who they were and why they turned out to be significant (I’m not talking about background extras or the person who sells Desmond his coffee, but someone who turns out to be important... as well as the woman who sells Hurley his “I ♥ Shih Tzus” shirt). There is very little in the way of analysis (don’t come to this book looking to get into the heart of a character or find deeper meaning from a particular object or come away with a richer understanding of the finale) but it’s an encyclopedia – they’re supposed to offer up a lot of information without analysis. That’s what encyclopedias do. There’s been a lot of talk about the problems with the book, but I think many of the nitpickers are missing the forest because a few pesky trees are in the way.

Yes, it’s riddled with mistakes. Not necessarily important mistakes – they don’t attribute things to one character when another did it – but I did find a few errors. One that a friend of mine pointed out, actually, was that they say Vincent comes to Jack in the finale and lies down beside him, just as he did in the pilot. But in the pilot Vincent ran up to Jack, sniffed him, and then ran off to the beach and Jack followed him. Very minor indeed, but those little mistakes are throughout.

What bothered me the most (and that’s probably because I’m an editor, so my job is to read pages and find this very sort of thing) were the editing inconsistencies. Now, I’m going to talk about them from the point of view of someone who’s worked behind the scenes and could therefore see through the mistakes and how they probably got there, so this may get a little technical. But hey, it’s what I do from 9 to 5, and now I get to apply it to Lost!

This is a HUGE book, with tons of text and little photos throughout. The show ended on May 23, and the book was originally skedded to come out August 24 to meet the DVD release (for various reasons that went unexplained – but I assume were just because the timeline was basically impossible – the book actually came out in mid-October). A book generally takes about 4 or 5 weeks at the printer. Then if it has a drop-dead street publication date, you need to have the book in your warehouse about a month ahead of that. So, an August 24 pub date means the book has to be in the warehouse by, say, August 1. Which means it has to go to the printer on July 1. Which means it has to have finished all of the editing by about a week ahead of that date. And if the show ended May 23, and the authors needed another month to incorporate all of the material from the finale... well, you’re now starting to see the timing issue (and why my life becomes so difficult when I’m editing – and writing – several books for the TV season that have to be on shelves on September 1). So you give the author a June 1 date and say sorry, but you’ll just have to send us all additions by that date. That still only gives you three weeks to do all of the edits, all of the final captions, and the entire final layout. A book like this one is a giant task layout-wise, and I could see the constraints they were under on every page.

So, when you’re editing a book like this, how do you work within that schedule? You divide it up amongst a team of editors and proofreaders. “Here, you take A-G, you take H-M”, etc. What becomes evident, unfortunately, is that all of the editors were not working with the same style sheets. Some of them were using serial commas (i.e. “he bought a hat, coat, and mittens”) while others didn’t (“he bought a hat, coat and mittens”). And often, I found both on the same page, which means that perhaps a copy editor on that section was adding them, and the proofreader wasn’t looking for them to make sure they were consistent throughout. Words are spelled differently on the same page, sentences have words missing from them. Captions are wrong, or repeated on more than one page, or have words misspelled (the one I remember is that the Millennium Falcon is spelled “Millenium”). I didn’t put sticky notes on the pages where I found mistakes, because, I hate to say it, I would have had them on every other page.

The biggest mistake I found was in Kate’s entry, in a weird sidebar called “Equine/Human Relationship” (sometimes these sidebars just felt like padding, and in a book this enormous, I have no idea why they’d be attempting to pad it). Anyway, clearly the first line of the sidebar wasn’t very good, and the editor decided to rewrite it, and then edited the second sentence to either remove or add in a serial comma. Problem? He or she left the original two sentences in there, so now it appears twice. The second time is rewritten. Here it is:

The horse was an important image for humans even before they were domesticated several thousand years BCE. Since then, horses symbolized many consistent attributes across cultures, including: strength, freedom, grace, beauty, and power. The importance of equines dates as far back as the third millennium BC with ancient Elam slates reflecting their form. Since then, horses symbolized many consistent attributes across cultures, including: Strength, freedom, grace, beauty and power.

OK, so here’s the editing lesson: Look at the first and third sentences. Same sentence, written differently (i.e., an editor said, let’s change “third millennium BC” to “several thousand years BCE”). Second and fourth sentences are identical, except the first one used a serial comma (beauty, and power) and the fourth one didn’t.

So yes, there are some sloppy moments. But thankfully, those sorts of glaring errors are not throughout the book, and speaking as an editor who’s made more than her fair share of mistakes when under the wire and on extremely tight timelines, I understand how they happen. But I work at a medium-sized press with 10 people, and before a book goes to the printer there’s at least one person, sometimes more, who does one final flip through the book looking for inconsistencies, checking captions and sidebars and table of contents page numbers, etc. So I feel like a larger press like DK should have had more of those things in place. That said, The Lost Encyclopedia is massive and has so many various elements that even the editor in me is willing to give it a pass.

The writing is good; it’s definitely written by fans who know the show inside and out, which is important (too many of these sorts of books are written by pens for hire), but the writing was also at times a little cumbersome and technical. But once again, I’m going to stick up for the writers here and say it’s an encyclopedia; it’s meant to be a little more objective and impersonal.

This is not a good book when you’re trying to look something up – things are out of alphabetical order (NOT good for an encyclopedia) because this entry fit better on the next page, so instead they just put a little note that says, “in case you’re looking for this word, it’s three pages from now” sort of stuff. After I found the picture of the bookshelf, I couldn’t find it again to show my husband. I looked under B… nope. L for literature? No. Um… S for shelf? Ah… no, it’s after Sawyer’s entry. Because, um… because he reads a lot of the books? Yeah, that didn’t work for me, either. So I think this book works better if you simply sit down and read it like a book. Flip around if you want and read the S entries followed by the B ones, but don’t try to look something up (and many of the things aren’t indexed… so don’t look there, either).

And sometimes the term they’ve put it under is wonky. The sidebars, as mentioned, seemed to have been added in just for padding; my favourite was under “White Rabbit” (perfect example of what I was just saying… just now I looked it up under “Rabbit” and couldn’t find it and had to flip around until I found it under W for white) which begins, “Rabbits are small mammals found in many places all over the world.” LOL! I wish the John Locke one began, “John Locke is a man, which is of the homo sapiens variety with an X and Y chromosome, hence, male.” But it’s that sort of thing that was unnecessary in a book this big.

Some people have complained about the way the characters’ entries were alphabetized, which is generally by first name. My husband said they should be under last names only. I said, “Really? What’s Charlie’s last name?” He just stood there for a second and said, “Well… that’s what an index is for.” And I said if you’re looking for “Charlie,” you’d have to look it up in the index under Pace, and if you don’t know that’s his last name, you won’t find it. The authors instead have cleverly put it under C for Charlie, and that makes sense to me. Jack is under J, James Ford is under S because we know him as Sawyer. John Locke is under L. Inconsistent? No… because we all call him Locke. That just makes sense. So I thought the alphabetization of the names was great.

There were a lot of two-page spread pics that didn’t make sense. There’s this one that’s a chart of animals, ending in the smoke monster on the far right, and they’re on a grid that shows them from tiniest to largest. And yet… they have the Hurley bird being shown as being bigger than the horse. Um… I don’t think so. But it’s still a cool picture.

But enough nitpicking... I’d rather talk about the good stuff. Under each character you get their backstory, each part of their flashback, and the key moments of their character’s arc. For the biggest ones you get sidebar charts of what other characters they were associated with off-island and what the on-island connections are, and then you can use those lists to cross-check the other names. It’s a great resource for keeping track of everything if you’ve forgotten some aspect of that character’s story.

Like I said, the photos are amazing. Many of the artefacts used on the show are featured in photos that were obviously taken at the Lost auction in the summer; the photo of the horrific squirrel baby, for example, isn’t the squirrel baby at all, but an earlier version of the thing that they built to show the designers how they REALLY wanted the thing to be built. I remember that causing some controversy at the Lost auction because they were billing it as the actual thing that appeared in the episode, and when fans pointed out that wasn’t it at all (it’s a much less scary-looking version) then the description changed on the auction site. Unfortunately, the less scary version appears in the encyclopedia because they just grabbed the photo of the one at the auction. Or… maybe that’s a fortunate thing, actually. I don’t think I want that thing pictured in a book on my shelf.

Some fans have pointed out that Lostpedia is the better thing to have, because you can cross-reference things, look anything up, it’s constantly updated and isn’t filled with spelling errors. Lostpedia might be the more useful tool if you’re a Lost scholar, but for the fan who wants a thing of beauty to commemorate all those years on the island, the Lost Encyclopedia is a wonderful addition to their collection. It’s gorgeous, it’s hefty, and it was written with a lot of love. How many other official books could boast something this unbelievably dense and rich, and filled with minutiae that even a diehard fan would appreciate? Most official books just gloss over the series and give you some purty little thing that’s about as substantial as the Nikki and Paulo subplot from season 3, but this book is great.

I remember being a little worried when I saw this book coming out around the same time as mine, but now that I’ve read it I realize our books aren’t rivals; they perfectly complement each other. This one gives you the background and plot summary of the series, and mine analyzes all of that. It’s the beauty, mine is the brains. And that’s not me dissing it at all; I think this book is essential to every Lost fan’s collection.

But, of course, if you just have money to buy one Lost book, then yeah. Buy mine.

NOW. I have one copy of the Lost Encyclopedia to give away (and that’s for people who’ve read down this far!) I was trying to figure out some sort of contest, so I’ll go with the one I had last year. Send me a photo of you with your Season 6 Finding Lost book (or your complete series) for me to post on the site, and the winner of the best photo will win a copy of The Lost Encyclopedia! Email your entries to me at I look forward to them!


Dusk said...

I have it, almost since the day it came out the images really are amazing and it's cool to have, the editing and stuff didn't realy bother me, I'm more forgiving of that sort of thing I guess.

I admire them for putting so much effort into this.

What did you think of the answers it had Nikki? I actually loved the page on The Sickness, and it's given me a whole theroy on Sayid and a bit on Claie, which I'l save for the Sayid post (Their is one eventually right? lol) Minor book spoilers coming, stop reading if your someone who wants to avoid those.

My biggest problems with the book are how the Tempest Station was used in Season 4, and the date of the Purge. I really don't believe Ben wanted to die just to kill all the survivors.

And going by Locke's dream of Horance and the cabin (also somewhat answered, at least the ash) the Purge is in 1992. This fits with Kelvin fighting in The Gulf War. But the book says it was in 1987!

This doesn't add up for Kelvin at all, and it means DHARMA was wiped out before Danielle came to the island, which doesn't make sense because the Others were still living in the jungle when Ben brought Alex to them. And Ben says in The New Man In Charge, which was August 2010, according to the Walt page, the DI has been gone for *almost* 20 years, so it has to be 1992 right?

Having it in 1987 only clears up the plot hole of Danielle's message on the radio tower not being noticed by DHARMA for 3 years, but this is the lesser mistake I feel.

Christian said...

Great review, Nikki! Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed the Lost Encyclopedia and have been looking forward to hearing your opinion on it, as a professional editor.

The actual mythological content is for the most part correct, although it's not difficult to see that the Lost writers retconned some of their work.

My biggest gripe was with the proofing editors. If DK were strapped for time, why not delay it just a little longer with another apology?

Anyway, I encourage people to buy your book for a thorough unofficial analysis of the series and the Lost Encyclopedia for official but minimal details.

Marebabe said...

Great book review, Nikki! I just received my copy of the Lost Encyclopedia yesterday, and all I’ve had time to do so far is skim through it, page by page. I was kind of wondering when I would spot some of the mistakes I’d been hearing about, and at the end of the book, I found what I think was a pretty big omission.

About 4 pages from the very end, in a 2-page spread on Jack Shephard, there is a picture of Jack, Juliet, and David in the hospital corridor. And I looked at that and realized that I couldn’t remember seeing any other pictures of David in the book. So I looked in the Index, and I flipped back to the pages with Hurley’s imaginary friend, Dave, and Hurley’s Dad, Cheech, er, David Reyes. It seems to me that David Shephard should’ve been right there, but he was totally skipped! Considering that even the gal at the convenience store who sold Hurley his “I heart Shih-Tzus” T-shirt was given a name (Darlene) and a couple sentences of text, the absence of David Shephard in such a detailed encyclopedia is quite a major goof!

One other thing sort of jumped out at me during my initial perusal. The Taweret statue appears twice in the book. On page 29, it is called Anubis, and on page 351, the exact same picture is called Taweret. I’ve always been a little cranky about the producers’ insistence that this very masculine-looking statue was supposed to be the very female and pregnant Taweret. Nikki, having read your description of the editing process, and the fact that many hands are involved in a book like this, I think that’s clearly what is behind this odd handling of the giant Egyptian statue. But I’m like you, in that I am so glad to own this glossy, beautiful book! Very few things produced by flawed human hands are perfect, so I can forgive the (many) imperfections and just enjoy it.

I did, however, find myself wishing over and over again that they had included a picture of each and every supporting character. I felt that, if a character merited a few lines of text in the book, he or she could have been shown. I’m pretty sure that to do so would have only made the book a few pages longer.

The Lost Goose said...

I loved the Encyclopedia. I found it clarified several ambiguous areas of the show: the nature of the smoke monster (and by implication the island); the canonical status of the Valenzetti Equation (which is crucial to understanding the real meaning of the numbers IMHO); and the importance of fate/destiny. This book and yours are essential reading for any Lost fan, and complement one another quite well. Its true that the grammatical errors are annoying, and there are some minor errors, but its still a brilliant piece of work. Thanks for reviewing it Nikki.

Linda345 said...

I requested a copy of The Lost Encyclopedia from our local library over TWO months ago, but there was quite long waiting list, and I haven't received it yet. Can't wait. Might break down and buy the thing.

Nikki, I envy you your job. It sounds like a lot of fun and very creative.

The Question Mark said...

Thanks for the review, Nikki!
I got this the day it came out & I really liked it. Every turn of a page was another adventure, like, "Oooh, here we go, turning the page, what's gonna be next?!...OH, it's Ajira Airways!" LoL I also really loved how all of the flash-sideways stuff was placed at the end of the book, after the index. it just seemed a really fitting & neat choice.

I just wish they hadn't forgotten to include Sawyer's girlfriend Cassidy as an entry :(

Also, THANK YOU Nikki, for clarifying something for me: I've been writing for years, and i always use serial commas, but I never knew if there was a name for that or not!
LMAO now I know, and knowing is half the battle!

Marebabe said...

@Question Mark: It’s interesting that Cassidy is omitted, because I remember seeing her daughter, Clementine, mentioned. Oh, well. I wonder if the next edition of the Lost Encyclopedia will be cleaned up and expanded to include the stuff that was missing from the first edition.

SenexMacDonald said...

@Nikki - loved the review as always. I recently got the Lost Encyclopedia but have not had the opportunity to go through it to date. I am looking forward to spending part of my holidays just going over it. :)

It is sitting under the LOST Auction Book that I purchased and goes with it magnificently! Once I have my copy of your book - I will have to take a picture for you to post. I would say that at that point, I have got LOST covered!

Re. @Marebabe: "I wonder if the next edition of the Lost Encyclopedia will be cleaned up and expanded to include the stuff that was missing from the first edition."

Nooooo, I hate it when they put out 'other' additions because they missed something or messed up somewhere. Leave it as it is! I love what I have and really hate feeling obliged to buy the 'revised' edition.

JS said...

Thanks very much, Nikki, for reviewing. I've had it since it came out, but haven't spent time with it yet. I think I just want one more LOST thing I haven't done yet, delaying the inevitable....

Blam said...

on pages 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42, the pages are devoted to the actual number of the page

That's genius!

I really appreciated your look at the book from a publishing perspective, in addition to reviewing it as a Lost fan/scholar.

VW: leupsyz — n. The alignment of sun and moon in syzygy as seen from the Bavarian village of Leupoldsdorf.

Blam said...

Marebabe: It seems to me that David Shephard should’ve been right there, but he was totally skipped!

Did you look under "Jonas"?

Marebabe said...

@Blam: Your VW, “leupsyz” = Bwahaha! “Jonas” = DOUBLE Bwahaha!!

paleoblues said...

Maybe we just imagined Jack had a son.

Quarks said...

I received the Lost Encyclopedia yesterday and I have to say, I love it. Yes, there are several errors, and a couple of omissions, but in a book of this size I don't think they really matter. I didn't take part in the Lost Experience or any of the other ARGs, so I knew very little about the Valenzetti equation, and it is nice to find out more about it and the canonicity (is that a word?) of the things involved in the ARGs.

There are a few omissions in the book, some of which slightly annoyed me but overall they haven't missed anybody too significant. I would have liked individual entries on Cassidy, Ji Yeon and the Whispers, but oh well. As for why David wasn't there, with the exception of the last few pages, the only references to the flash-sideways are when they feature in the on-island plot i.e. in "Happily Ever After". Perhaps the producers didn't want too much to be revealed about that realm, so they left it out except for a brief summary at the end.

One thing which did annoy me, and I would imagine is related to what Nikki said about different people editing different sections, is the inconsistencies with the candidates numbering. By this, I do not mean that some of the candidates numbers were wrong, but that some of the main characters numbers were given and some weren't. I mean, if it were just that the candidates for numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42 had their numbers in the box at the beginning of the entry, that would be fine. But, characters like Kate, Shannon, Boone, Juliet and Rousseau had their candidate numbers given, as they were seen in the show, in the cave or on the lighthouse dial, but some other characters, whose numbers were also seem in the show, had there numbers omitted, like Charlie, Claire, Ben and Faraday (whose name could even be found next to 101 in the image of the lighthouse dial in the encyclopedia). I would have preferred it if they either all had their numbers given, or none of them did.

One other thing about the book, which is an observation as opposed to a complaint, is to do with the index. I actually noticed this on Lostpedia, where it appeared under the errors. In the index, for Dave, Harper Stanhope, Kate's horse and Emily Linus, there is the page number given for the page which lists some of the Smoke Monster apparitions. I was wondering whether these might be Easter Eggs in the encyclopedia, or maybe they were listed under the apparitions but were later removed for whatever reason and the editors forgot to remove the page numbers from the index. I doubt they would just be normal errors, as the appearances of Dave, Emily Linus, Harper Stanhope and Kate's horse have been speculated to have been the Smoke Monster in the past.

Despite a few errors, I love this encyclopedia. It contains some more information about some things, such as Ethan's past, and clarifications on others. I can't really blame the encyclopedia for some of the continuity errors it may cause, as there were some bits of the TV show which caused continuity errors with other bits, and I imagine it would have been hard to resolve them all neatly.

Combined with Finding Lost Season 6, this book has helped me gain a greater understanding of my favourite show on television.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great review, Nikki!

We really appreciate your kind words about our book. It means a lot to us.

And yes, we totally agree that our book, your books and Lostpedia can, and should, all exist as the insightful collections they are - in harmony and without impugning one another in any way.

To answer some of the issues that came up in your review and from your commenters, Damon and Carlton tried the companion guide approach way back in season one and it didn't work with the organic nature of how the writing evolved over six years. In the end they decided "in world" was how they wanted their final official mythology to be collected in a final book and thus the Encyclopedia was born. But that being said, they ALWAYS wanted the themes, meanings, and ramifications generated in the episodes to be dissected infinitum and that's where your books fill that need beautifully. We're glad they exist!

To answer some reader questions:

Dusk: The Purge dates are per the show. And yes, it will never ever work out mathematically like fans want :)

Marebabe: We worked out with the show that no characters introduced in the flash sideways (like David or Ben's superintendent) would be in the main section of the book because the flash sideways is not part of the regular narrative mythology. That area of the book is meant to allow the readers to still keep their own interpretations without undue influence from the show's writers or us as the book authors.

The Question Mark: We didn't forget entries much as some think. We had 404 pages hard and fast and so we always knew some entries would have to come under other entries but so long as their story was told in some entry then they were addressed in the mythology. Cassidy's story was best told through her daughter's entry and through Sawyer and Kate's entries. We tried very hard not to repeat material so the book wasn't tedious and with the approval (and sometimes decision) of the show - we made some choices that seem atypical but really there was a method to the madness :)

Quarks: Candidate numbers and their inclusion was strictly dictated by the show.

As Nikki helped explain, creating a book is an odyssey. In a Type A world, Paul & I would have labored over it ourselves for months more but you have to give over to your team, hope they make changes you want and then you bleed when they don't. It was an insane deadline to meet and our last pass was actually turned in the very last day of August! Our editors had another week with it and it had to go out or there would not have been a book this holiday season at all. In the end those are business issues that are taken out of the hands of authors and we had to listen to our inner Jack's and "Let go" :)

Thanks to everyone in the thread for their kind words and support. We appreciate your understanding for the lack of perfection in some areas, but we are so happy in general the book was accepted in the love and spirit in which we wrote it.


Tara Bennett and Paul Terry

Carol Hoffman said...

Do you have a winner yet?