Monthly Archives: March 2018

“The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession ” by Allison Hoover Bartlett

This is a book about obsession! What is it about BOOKS? Many of us love them, but we’re able to control our larcenous impulses in bookstores and libraries. Allison Bartlett interviewed John Charles Gilkey, who repeatedly employed credit card fraud to get the rare books he craved. She also writes about Ken Sanders, a bookseller who organizes security for a national booksellers association. He deplores the low priority the police establishment puts on recovery of stolen volumes.

One problem a reporter like Bartlett encounters is that, if you really find out how a thief operates, you are in danger of becoming complicit in the crimes!

Gilkey was caught in 2003 and served 18 months in San Quintin prison. Wikipedia says he was arrested again in 2010, for stealing antique maps. I wonder where he is now?

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“The Word Detective – A Memoir – Searching for the Meaning of it All at the Oxford English Dictionary” by John Simpson

This book sounds dry, but it’s not! John Simpson worked for/on the Oxford English Dictionary for 40 years, but never got bored, and his autobiography, likewise, is consistently interesting. (Yes, there is a bound, hard back copy of the OED in my house, two volumes, along with a magnifying glass. Yes, I have consulted it. But not often.)

The OED deals with the origins of words, as well as their contemporary meanings. As technology changes, unexpectedly old uses of words are often uncovered.

Where does the OED find its words? When Simpson began at the OED, they still employed readers, a technique highlighted in Simon Winchester’s wonderful book The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. With this technique, books for perusal had to be carefully selected, in order to keep the volunteer readers interested.

Now, digital search techniques allow a far wider range. The OED looks for unfamiliar and/or new words everywhere – in catalogs and manuals and popular literature. They do require that a word achieve some level of use. A made up term that is used just once won’t turn up in the dictionary, but a word like “muggle” (non-magical person, JK Rowling) is included, because it has passed into general speech.

I realized (to my surprise) that I am a word snob! I’ve been rejecting neologisms like “blog” when I play Banagrams! Oh, dear… Time to loosen up a little. I’ve also rejected words on the basis of foreign origin, when Simpson would welcome them in. Words like “taco”.

Throughout the book, Simpson includes short essays on interesting words. Like “paraphernalia”, “redux” and “juggernaut”, as well as very familiar words like “marriage” and “deadline”.

The OED also includes phrases – up to three words, or is it four? For example “the thin red line”. Where was it first used? What did it mean then? How is it used now?

I wonder what would have happened if the information revolution hadn’t made it possible to convert the OED into an online “database”? Language is changing so quickly! I better learn to enjoy it.

Recent Reading

Hello, Friends! I’ve gotten WAY behind in writing for this blog. The last time I said that, I stated that the reasons were all positive – travel and other enjoyment. I’m afraid I can’t say the same this time. A close family member had serious health problems over the winter. I’ve been distracted, to put it mildly. Now, I can say (with cautious optimism) that things are back to normal.

For completeness sake, here’s a list of what I read but failed to write about:

“The Man Who Loved Books too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession ” by Alison Hoover Bartlett

Three novels by Alexander McCall Smith:

  • “The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine” from the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series
  • “Sunshine on Scotland Street”
  • “The Novel Habits of Happiness” (Isabel Dalhousie series)

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

“The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” by Mackenzi Lee

“The Orchardist” by Amanda Coplin

“The Word Detective – A Memoir – Searching for the Meaning of it All at the Oxford English Dictionary” by John Simpson

“The Glassblower” by Petra Durst Benning

“American Gods”: The Tenth Anniversary Edition by Neil Gaiman

So… I’ve been on a major fiction kick! Only two non-fiction titles in the list. One item in the Young Adult category, “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue”. More female authors than male.

I’ll write about some or all of these sooner or later. Leave a message if there’s a book here about which you feel particularly curious. Thanks!