Thursday, May 24, 2007

book clubbing in May

I for one can't believe that it is almost the end of May already. Where has the month gone?

My book club's monthly meeting took place yesterday. Our selection for this month was: Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman (subtitled: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary). It was another book that we all enjoyed, though maybe not quite as much as we expected to.

I know that my opinion of the book was definitely clouded by the fact that I'd already read (and read relatively recently) The Meaning of Everything, Winchester's other book about the OED. Because the subject of the two books is the same there are passages that seem to have been copy-and-pasted from the first book into the second. That, however, wasn't my complaint. Actually, I just thought The Meaning of Everything was a much stronger book. In The Professor and the Madman, Winchester is trying to tell the story of Minor (the madman) as well as the story of Murray (the professor and longest-reigning editor of the OED) and the broader story of the OED itself. Because he is trying to accomplish so much in one relatively short volume, he doesn't really manage to tell any of the stories satisfactorily.

One of the things I did like about the book (well, both books) is Winchester's use of what in my family we call "SAT words" (in reference to one of the standardized tests that we Americans need to take before entering university). I'm not sure if Winchester made an attempt to use more arcane words because he was writing a history of a dictionary or if he always writes like that, but it's definitely something I noticed and appreciated.

I'm sure that I'll be reading more from Winchester in the future because we have a number of his other books kicking around the house (The Map that Changed the World and Krakatoa are two I've happened across recently). I think that I may try to search out audio versions though as Winchester is a really wonderful reader.

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