I understand the appreciation for gadgets like the Kindle, but to me, nothing can replace the real deal. The crack of a new spine, the rustle of the pages, the weight in my hands and even the combined smell of the paper and ink and bindings. Sounds weird, but I could probably identify some of my old paperbacks just by their smell. Stephen King smells different than Anne Rice. It’s true.
I’m a big fiction fan, but I also have a deep love of reference books of all kinds. One book I love to pick up and thumb through is A Writer’s Companion which is over 900 pages of endless information from immutable laws like Ettore’s Observation (the other line always moves faster) to what song was popular in 1915 (“Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag”) to a glossary of Architectural Terms (Ha-ha: wall constructed in a ditch so as not to block a view [I kid you not]). I also have several books about the etymology of words and phrases, which is always fascinating to me, and books about linguistics and, of course, writing. I appreciate the standard reference books like dictionaries and encyclopedias and atlas’ as well. When my local library had a bargain book sale, I came home with a 1952 edition Funk & Wagnalls dictionary (two volumes and about 30 pounds) and a 1970 edition Roget’s thesaurus (also two volumes – look up the word in one and it tells you on what page you can find its synonyms and antonyms in the other). I was so excited to get them home, flip through pages that were printed long before I was born and read some of the archaic words and their meanings.
After learning this, it should come as no surprise that my all time favorite book, fiction or otherwise, is The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. It is the true tale of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Yawn, right? Well, the addendum to the title is: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. Sound a little more interesting now? From the Amazon review:
When the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary put out a call during the late 19th century pleading for “men of letters” to provide help with their mammoth undertaking, hundreds of responses came forth. Some helpers, like Dr. W.C. Minor, provided literally thousands of entries to the editors. But Minor, an American expatriate in England and a Civil War veteran, was actually a certified lunatic who turned in his dictionary entries from the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.
It’s a fascinating story and I don’t think you have to be a lover of words to appreciate it. I highly recommend you give it a shot.
Well, today I picked up a new book that even out-nerds that one: The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World From the Periodic Table of the Elements, by Sam Kean. I’ve lost you here, haven’t I? A book about the periodic table? I know, I know, but I sucked at chemistry in school and I thought this book sounded interesting. From the inside cover:
Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I,53)? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made from cadmium (Cd, 48)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie’s reputation? And why did tellurium (Te, 52) lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?
See? Sounds fun, doesn’t it? You think I’m a complete geek now, don’t you? I can live with that.