Saturday, October 18, 2008

Reading the OED, One Man, One Year, 21, 730 Pages by Ammon Shea-- Thoughts

Reading the OED, One Man, One Year, 21, 730 Pages by Ammon Shea-- Thoughts

Ammon Shea sets out to read the Oxford English Dictionary and spends a full year doing it. He considers the Oxford English Dictionary the greatest of dictionaries. We learn that Shea is obsessed with reading and collecting dictionary of all kinds. He even has a girlfriend Alix who used to be a lexicographer for the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

This obsession for me is quite comforting. It is nice to know that there are people who are more obsessed with words than I am. He is even one of the "library people." He spends many hours in the basement of the Hunter College library in New York reading the famed OED. I like the idea of sitting in libraries for hours reading endlessly, the only company being mice that peak out from under the door.

Every day he consumes a thermos full of coffee while reading the Oxford English Dictionary. I am glad that I am not him. He has to get prescription glasses and suffers regular headaches from reading the book. I could never do this. I have a hard time reading through the first letter of a dictionary. The line between reading pleasure and pain is blurred.

The book is divided into an exordium (opening), an excursus (closing), and a chapter on each letter in the alphabet. In each chapter of the book, Ammon shea starts with a short essay of about five pages, then picks out his favorite words from the Oxford English Dictionary.

I must admit, my choices of words would have been different. I only found a few of his choices very interesting, goat - drunk (n) make lascivious by alcohol, and Postreme (n.) he is who he is last, to be particularly interesting. What is fascinating to me are his wonderful essays.

The essays are a peak into the wonderful world of words. For example, He visits the dictionary sales lady, Miriam, who has an apartment full of dictionaries and dictionary ephemera which she sells. He never seems to leave emptyhanded. Every essay draws you further into the world of words. Ammon Shea also states that the written form of the dictionary is far superior to the computer form because he can hold it in his lap, make notes in it, and leave bookmarks.

To me there is a common bond between Mr. Shea and myself. We both love the accumulation of useless knowledge or knowledge for knowledges sake. There is a deep thrill in learning what you will probably never use in the practical world. It is very much seeking after knowledge "because it is there."

This is also a wonderful explication of the relationship between writing and reading. In a sense, because Ammon Shee is reading the complete Oxford English Dictionary, he is defining the process of becoming the ultimate dictionary reader by writing about it. We could call this reading the definitive example of reading the OED.

If you are from Oxford University Press, you might see him as the exemplary reader. Ammon Shea even writes essays for the Oxford University Press blog about reading. . It makes me feel admiration and envy.

This is a book for the scholar, the book worm, the information hound, and the knowledge obsessed. It teaches as much about writing and words as it does about reading. Read it, enjoy it, and learn. The book is both entertaining and charming.

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