Friday, June 15, 2012

The Pocket Oxford English Dictionary

Our friends at the Oxford University Press need to turn to page 692 of their Pocket Dictionary and look up the definition of ‘Pocket’. They might be surprised to find that a pocket is not defined as: “a large bag sewn into or on clothing that is capable of holding a 1,100 page hardcover-dictionary.”

I’m suggesting that even MC Hammer would struggle to fit the Pocket Oxford English Dictionary in his trouser pocket.

Perhaps Dr Who stopped in at the OUP and dropped off a pair of Tardis pants. Actually, this would explain a lot, because the Pocket Oxford English Dictionary has a companion - the Pocket Oxford Thesaurus – and it would take a pair of Tardis pants to contain this dynamic duo.

The ‘pocket’ moniker is a misnomer, but this is still an excellent small dictionary. It fits nicely in the hand and is a joy to flick through. Its definitions are crisp and clear. It’s the dictionary you reach for when you think you know the definition or spelling of a word, but you want to be sure before committing to it in writing.

And I bet those folk at the OUP were happy when they closed out the book with ‘Zygote’. The symmetry is almost Zen: the end of words is the beginning of life.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Slate Audio Book Club

I am listening to Stephen Metcalf, Katie Roiphe and Julia Turner discuss Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert on the Slate Audio Book Club podcast.

Metcalf hates Eat, Pray, Love. Did he just say that he hates the book, hates the author, and hates anyone who would try to defend either the book or the author? It’s hard to tell. It feels as if Metcalf makes sentences by pulling words from an enormous bag, a bag that contains adjectives and adverbs in high proportion. He takes these words and flings them into the air, creating sentences of sidereal splendour, sentences that are as inaccessible as the stars – at least for me. He is a caffeinated personality, Metcalf, and I like him.

Roiphe loves Eat, Pray, Love. She has written an article for Slate in which she describes it as “…a transcendently great beach book.” She is suggesting to Metcalf that he take a breath, that his hate is irrational, that the book has heart, even if it is pulseless artificial heart - a Dick Cheney heart. Metcalf can rant all he likes, Roiphe will not placate him; she is not that kind of woman. There is a palpable tension between them, but they have more in common than they realise. And he likes her: of course he does.

Turner likes Eat, Pray, Love. She is ready to talk about Gilbert’s book, but finds herself, rather reluctantly, in the middle of a group therapy session. She wonders if her colleagues, Metcalf and Roiphe, will leave the room holding hands, but she dare not say as much.

Metcalf is vitriolic. He detests Elizabeth Gilbert and tells his fellow book clubbers this in emphatic tones. The listener, in this case me, sees through Metcalf’s wordy criticism. His dislike of Gilbert is simple: she is a manipulator - her book reveals this - and Metcalf will not be manipulated by a woman. Oh no, Metcalf likes women who play it straight - like Katie Roiphe, for example.

I love the Slate Audio Book Club podcast. It’s informative. It makes me laugh out loud - literally. It’s the book club you wish you could belong to. You can subscribe to it through iTunes.