It’s a classic question; what book would you want with you if you were stranded on a desert island?
The BBC program “Desert Island Discs” says at least 100 celebrities including Kim Cattrall and Terry Gilliam would choose the dictionary as their tome of choice. It’s been awhile since Meg thought about the dictionary as a choice in actual reading material, but she does remember back in junior high receiving one as a Christmas gift. I know, I know, but I was a rather cerebral child, and coupled with the fact was I always had a boatload of term papers to write, and this made the book a very worthwhile purchase for my parents.
Meg remembers turning to the definition of the Beatles and staring at the photo of Paul McCartney for an extraordinary amount of time. (he isn’t even her favorite Beatle, she must have not moved onto George at that point…). Meg also used her powers for good in looking up things she wasn’t certain about, like terms that could possibly have been in a sex education class if such things had been remotely offered in the day. She was quite surprised at the number of terms readily available in the Webster’s dictionary; she eagerly shared them with her friends. Knowledge is power, people.
Still, would Meg really want the dictionary for her desert island read? After all, like comedian Steve Wright says:
I finally got around to reading the dictionary. The zebra did it.
So if we know how the dictionary plays out with the whole letter z thing, then wouldn’t the Bible would be the ultimate choice? Plenty of juicy stories and dramatic natural disasters, and plus it would serve a backbone of faith until Liam Neeson came sweeping in for his dramatic island rescue.
So when I read Erin McKean’s article in the Sunday Boston Globe, she got me to thinking of the dictionary as literature. She cited David Levithan’s recent book, “The Lover’s Dictionary” as a prime example of a great book written in the style of a dictionary “told in alphabetical, rather than chronological order…the book co-opts the structure of the dictionary to define the arc of a relationship…in a satisfying way“. For example, take the letter A:
“I want my books to have their own shelves,” you said, and that’s how I knew it would be okay to live together.
Now that makes complete sense to me. I would want (and Meg actually does have) books about computer programming and art residing on different shelves. In fact, the computer books exist on shelves that aren’t seen, because who needs to see a C sharp or an Adobe Photoshop book mingling with a beautiful set of antique Dickens classics?
A resounding review on Amazon seals the deal for both buying the book and making the real Dictionary my official desert island book!
“Alphabetized entries headed by beautiful words most of us don’t take the time to speak anymore give pieces of a relationship that on one page is in devastating freefall, and then in the next entry the lovers are riding the heights. The structure is exhilarating, pulling you inside out with anticipation with each new chapter…“.
Erin, in addition to being a compelling book reviewer, is also founder of the website Wordnik, which I popped over to, and found myself very entertained with all the fun words you can look up. For example, how many places can you find the definition of stabby and use it in a sentence?
I would have *never* guessed!
And for those of us doing sanity checks on real words in the English language, we have this:
I know. When a guy says the word schweet in a high sing-song voice, it makes me cringe. But I do think it’s sweet to know that the dictionary is a cool book to have, and great piece of literature to boot!