Search Results for: label/The Oxford English Dictionary

The Professor and the Madman – The Making of a Dictionary

The making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Simon Winchester. Harper Collins. Published in 1998.

The prompt for writing a quick review of this book is that I just started a third title by the same author, Simon Winchester, The Crack at the Edge of the World, and couldn’t help but remember with fondness – yes, I used the word ‘fondness’ in regard to reading a book about how a dictionary was written – when I read The Professor and the Madman. Winchester is to my knowledge the developer and foremost practitioner of an immensely entertaining historical-narrative literary style whereby he lures us into turning page after page (rapidly) of a history book by telling a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story that reads like pulp fiction, and yes, which is set within a larger historical context and moment.

Erik Larson followed the pattern in Devil in the White City , introducing us to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and how it changed the history of America through the lurid tale of a serial killer who was as big as Jack the Ripper before Jack found his first victim. In some parallel ways, Sebastian Junger employed this model, telling us about seemingly mundane things – the deep sea fishing industry, the physics of waves, the types of North Atlantic storms, and a little of the history of Gloucester, Massachusetts – through the sensational story of the crew of the Andrea Gail in his book The Perfect Storm, even better known for the George Clooney movie.

What is the historical setting and importance of the Professor and the Madman? The writing of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), of course. Now, without making any claims of being an academic, I must admit that topic kind of, sort of interested me anyway. I like the history of words and their definitions. But enough to read a book? I’m not sure. Even if it’s less than 300 pages? Still not sure. It may never have reached the top of the stack. But even if you aren’t that interested in what made the OED the finest reference work of its day – and perhaps the greatest reference ever created – the story of Dr. Charles Minor, the man who contributed thousands of entries, all painstakingly researched and neatly written from his home in Crowthorne, England, just 50 miles from Oxford, just might hook you.

What tied Minor to the OED and made his role so remarkable? Was it that he was an American creating something so peculiarly British? Nope. There was no snobbery as a sub theme. That he was a veteran of the Civil War, where he was surgeon for the troops of the North? Interesting, but not interesting enough to bring a dictionary to life. Was it that he maintained a long distance relationship with Professor James Murray – strictly by correspondence – for decades, despite numerous invitations from Murray to attend fundraising dinners or just stop by the office to meet due to his prolific 10 thousand entries? Not even close. Was it that he thought Irishmen were … and that one night he went out and … and because of that he ended up living in … ? Yes. Yes. And yes.

Spoiler alert. If you don’t want to know what each “yes” represents, now is the time to stop! [Read more…]

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1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – A Review

review of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

First things first. The title has nothing to do with IQ. The first character is the number 1 so the title is a play on George Orwell’s 1984. Just in case you were wondering if I selected the title because of a possible correlation in title and my intellect!

If you aren’t familiar with Japanese author Murakami, his novels are critically acclaimed – he has been awarded the Franz Kafka Prize, the Jerusalem Prize and many others – and are a fantastical mix of surrealism and a rich (sometimes dense) detailing of everyday life. He consistently deals with themes of loneliness and alienation, the self and reality (and especially perception/imagination and reality). 1Q84 tackles all that and adds acute questions of the-ends-justify-the-means murder, religion and cults, destiny, sexual abuse, revenge, and parallel realities. Oh, it takes a while to catch on, but first and foremost, it is a love story. Really.

Was it listening to Janacek’s Sinfonietta that sent Aomame (“sweet pea”) into another world with two moons? Did Tengo see the same two moons when he rewrote Fuka-eri’s crude draft of Air Chrysalis? (And by the way, was that a story from the fevered imagination of a 17-year-old girl or was she describing things that actually happened?) Will either of them survive the revenge of a cult group called Sakigake and the brilliant and relentless pursuit of Ushikawa – a man with a large misshapen head that shouldn’t be able to follow anyone without being noticed? And what of the “Little People” – who seem to hold special powers in 1Q84 and that seem to be looking for a bridge to 1984 – are they neutral or as malevolent as we suspect? And the big question: did Aomame and Tengo have to enter 1Q84 to find each other after 20 excruciating years of separation from each other and disconnect from the world around them? I don’t think it’s a spoiler alert to say that they became soul mates at age 10.

Enough. You’re with me or not. If I’ve scared you off completely, don’t run away before reading the last sentence of this paragraph. If you’ve read other reviews I’ve written what you might have already discovered is I don’t actually review books – I recommend books. Sometimes quite different books.  I know Murakami is not for everyone – though 1Q84 sold a million copies in Japan alone – and I’ll have to admit, it’s not my usual fare. But I recommend this book for its dense, other-worldly beauty – reading it creates that curious sensation of wanting (even needing and willing) it to be done and to never end.

The original Japanese version was published in 2010 and the English translation was introduced in 2011. I read the lovely boxed set (very reasonably priced on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and others) that was given to me as a gift by my son Merrick.