It’s here! It’s here!! It’s finally Friday!!! Thank goodness. I don’t think I could have lasted much longer!
I’m exaggerating just a tiny bit for the sake of amusing you, dear readers. I promise that I’m not actually still
hungover tired from my wild night out lovely and responsible time with K. (My mom reads this blog from time to time. Hi Mom!)
You’ll be happy to know that I was actually quite civilized for the rest of the week. On Wednesday, Deb and I went to the symphony to see a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto 1. It was outstanding. On Thursday, I changed into pajama pants as soon as I got home from Corporate World. Actually, I should give myself a little more credit: I waited until the delivery guy had dropped off my sushi and then I changed into pajama pants. It was outstanding.
Speaking of outstanding, I’m thrilled to report that the 13 in ’13 Reading Challenge is continuing right on track, as I’ve finished my 5th book in the 5th month of the year. Today we’re talking about The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary written by Simon Winchester and recommended to me by the inimitable Bonnie from Paperkeeper. Let’s get to it!
Creating any type of lexicon is a massive undertaking; writing and editing the first ever, complete, unabridged reference document for the entire English language, by hand, is something else altogether. It is something extraordinary. Obviously, no one could do it alone, and many definitions were submitted by volunteers. As the definitions came in, the head of the committee noticed that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.
Can you believe it?!? This is a true story, my friends. Just think, during your school years, in the wee hours when you’d already
been awake for 17-plus consecutive hours and you needed to finish a paper and you were feeling like you were losing a bit of your mind … you were literally counting on a crazy person to help you get through it.
Obviously, I love this book to bits.
The story is just remarkable, and it’s told in such delicious, chewy language that sometimes all I could do was stop, and sigh, and read passages over again, and try to ignore how very jealous I was of Simon Winchester and his way with words. Here’s an example, from the very first chapter:
In Victorian London, even in a place as louche and notoriously crime-ridden as Lambeth Marsh, the sound of gunshots was a rare event indeed. The marsh was a sinister place, a jumble of slums and sin that crouched, dark and ogrelike, on the bank of the Thames just across from Westminster; few respectable Londoners would ever admit to venturing there. It was a robustly violent part of town as well … Fagin, Bill Sikes, and Oliver Twist would have all seemed quite at home in Victorian Lambeth: This was Dickensian London writ large. But it was not a place for men with guns.
And, for me, fascinating. I just couldn’t get over the fact that this all actually happened. I talk a lot and I write even more; and I take the dictionary completely for granted. Did you know that the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary took, all told, over seventy years to complete?!? I didn’t!!
It’s not a long book, but I took my time with this one; partially because I got distracted by Ender but mainly because I wanted to soak up the rhythms of Winchester’s language. That being said; I can definitely understand how this book might not be for everyone: he talks a lot. In detail. A lot of detail. If you like your mystery novels taut and sparsely written, you may have a tough time getting through this one.
But if you’re a word nerd like me, then for heaven’s sake go pick up a copy!
Thank you for the wonderful recommendation Bonnie, and have a wonderful weekend everyone! It’s a long weekend here in Canada, so I’ll be taking Monday off*, and we’ll have a Tuesday edition of My Life as a Movie, instead.
* You know I’ll probably stop by to say hi anyway.