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.

Richard Jury Returns – One of My Favorite Detectives Is Still Solving Crimes

Martha Grimes' Richard Jury novels are dark and humorous with a melancholy detective.

Vertigo 42 is the 23rd Richard Jury novel.

Chief Inspector Richard Jury is surrounded by colorful characters – from the idle rich Melrose Plant (who gave up his hereditary title of Lord) who assists him on cases, to his assistant Sergeant Alfred Wiggins (a hypochondriac and tea lover of the highest order), to the copper-haired fortune teller Carole Anne (is Jury her father figure or a “person of interest”) who lives two floors above him, and the residents of Long Piddington, his frequent stop from London to the scene of the crime.

Jury is intuitive and methodical and always “gets his man” – but despite his new romantic interest who cuts up bodies in the morgue – he never seems to get his woman. Jury just doesn’t fare well in love. We can assume from descriptions and responses that he is handsome and attractive, but the melancholy war orphan sabotages relationships at every turn. Unrequited love is always a wonderful plot device!

The plots are both humorous and dark – and occasionally get a bit too charmingly convoluted. But if you like your murder mysteries laced and paced with psychological reflection, Richard Jury is your man.

By the way, if you shake your head when you see individual book titles – The Dirty Duck, The Stargazey, The Horse You Came In On –  Grimes names most books after an English pub.

Martha Grimes’ 23rd Jury novel, Vertigo 42, released on June 2, 2014.

I won’t do a full review but I’ll note:

  • Sargent Wiggins can still be distracted by a piece of cake and hot cup of tea, but Grimes is letting the plodder show some real detecting skills in Vertigo 42. He seems to be coming into his own.
  • Did child-waif, free-spirited Carole Anne do some grown up flirting with Jury? I think she did.
  • Yes, Vertigo 42 is another London bar – but not the usual quaint neighborhood pub, but a sleek sophisticated spot 42 floors above the city.
  • Jury and Plant have always had a good-natured rivalry, but they seem to be picking at each other in this novel more like … dare I say it … nah … I’ll leave it at that.
  • Yes – the plot is convoluted – but as is almost always the case with a Jury novel, very satisfying!

 

 

John Wooden – RIP

On June 4, 2010, John Wooden died a the age of 99 in Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He was named by his peers as the greatest team sport coach in American sporting history. Humble, selfless, caring, he won 10 NCAA national championships – something he never talked about – as coach at UCLA.

He was a three-time All American at Purdue and won a national championship there as a player. He then coached high school and taught English for 11 years before entering the college ranks. During his tenure at UCLA, which began in 1948, he had four perfect seasons, had an 88-game winning streak, won 7 straight national championships, won 38 straight games in the NCAA tournament, was elected into the College Basketball Hall of Fame as both a coach and a player, and many other accomplishments.

But Wooden, a small-town country boy from Indiana never wavered in his values on the road to the bright lights of Tinseltown.

As a teacher, he began every basketball season by showing his players how to put their socks on the right way. He never talked to them about winning or losing; just living their lives with character. He designed a pyramid of success that he felt would make players victors not only on the court but in all of life. It included values like industriousness, loyalty, enthusiasm, initiative, alertness, poise, honesty, confidence, and other traits that were as much about being a good person as a good basketball player. As a coach, he didn’t bully, he didn’t cuss, he didn’t run the most sophisticated systems. “He was really more like a parent than a coach,” said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The theme he spoke of most is love and the great love his life was Nellie, his wife of 53 years. She was his first love and the only girl he ever kissed. After her death, he would sit down on the 21st of each month and write her a love letter that he would then leave on her pillow. Sports columnist Rick Reilly often asked him if he could use the letters as the basis of a book they could write together on making love last. Even decades after her death Wooden, with tears running down his cheeks, would say it was too recent and he needed more time

The Wizard of Westwood was an icon for coaches who are themselves icons. His players speak of him reverentially. Bill Walton said that some of Coach Wooden’s quotes and sayings – Woodenisms – that he snickered at as a player are the words he has on his walls and has taught his own children.

Just a sample of Woodenisms that will endure beyond his death are:

Ability is a poor man’s wealth.

Adversity is the state in which man mostly easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.

Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.

Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.

 Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. Courage is what counts.

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.

It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.

 It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.

Material possessions, winning scores, and great reputations are meaningless in the eyes of the Lord, because He knows what we really are and that is all that matters.

Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

John Wooden. RIP.