A big thank you to all of those who entered our Love2Read book review competition each month last year. It was wonderful to find out what all of you were reading, and discover some new writers!
Patricia Allen has won the last Love2Read book review competition for 2012 – congratulations, Pat! She also won back in October with her entry about The Man Who Loved China, by Simon Winchester, and was an interviewee on our podcast, Listeners in the Mist.
You can read her winning entry for December here:
The Surgeon of Crowthorne, by Simon Winchester, is an intriguing tale, including murder and madness, describing the mighty effort involved in the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Though there had been attempts before Dr Johnson’s dictionary in 1755, there was no in depth help for the meanings of words. By the 19th Century the need for a comprehensive dictionary was manifest. In 1878, James Murray, a brilliant lexicographer, born in 1837, was asked to produce one. He considered the work might take several years.
Murray needed the help of hundreds of volunteers who would read ancient writings, record words, write meanings and usages for assessment.
It took years to complete the letter A. The letter T took 5 years. It would take another 44 years to complete. Altogether, more than 70 years passed to produce the first edition of the great New English Dictionary in 1928. In 1933 the first supplement was known as the Oxford English or OED.
An American medical doctor , William Chester Minor born 1834, was retired from the American Army having been a surgeon in the American Civil War. Events in 1864 had unhinged this gentle man. He was irreparably damaged psychologically and medically discharged with a pension enabling him to travel to England. Dr Minor was highly intelligent, a cultured and an educated graduate from Yale university, though one with a greedy sexual appetite.
Simon Winchester’s vivid description of mid 19th Century London is a necessary reminder for those who only know present day London. Dr Minor was living in the area of the Lambeth marshes, south of the Thames, with undrained swamps, miserable slums, stinking tanneries and soap boilers. It was an area of many brothels enabling easy access to women. One night in 1872, tormented out of his mind with paranoia, Dr Minor shot a man and was subsequently committed to the Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum for the criminally insane.
At Broadmoor, he became a trusted prisoner housed in comfort, rather like a gentleman’s club, with privileges, books etc. His comforts included tobacco, a penknife, coffee, bookcases of his own books (his consuming passion), clothes, his flute and music, fob watch and gold chain.
When James Murray sought volunteers for his project, Dr Minor answered the call and for decades filled his days, whilst imprisoned in his cell at Crowthorne, reading, writing, and contributing to the compilation of the OED. It became a bizarre friendship for over 30 years, between two highly intelligent gentle men who loved the written word.
James Murray aimed to assess 33 words per day but sometimes one word would take almost a full day. It was a huge undertaking.
Dr Minor would read voraciously, record the words from rare, ancient books, especially 17th C authors, and send the scripts to Oxford for assessment.
Work on the Dictionary was Dr Minor’s medication.
A change of Prison Superintendent caused removal of many privileges from and heartless treatment of Dr Minor. He became unsettled and unhappy. As he aged his mental state deteriorated, delusions increased and his memories of past sexual conquests caused such loathing of his ‘sins’ that one day in December 1902 he amputated his penis with the penknife and threw his member into the fire.
Dr Minor was taken to America by his brother, Alfred, in 1910. By then he was frail, wasted, and in ill health. He died in March 1920.
His resource books are preserved in the Bodleian Library museum in Oxford.
Taking inspiration from The Broke and the Bookish blog, I asked your Library staff some tough End of the National Year of Reading 2012 questions. I’ve collated their answers for you here.
1. The book I’m currently reading:
- A Family Romance by John Lanchester – For book group we have to read a biography. This one has more interesting family secrets than most.
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. This is one I had to relinquish months ago to a hold, and am finally picking up again.
- Spook Country (Blue Ant, #2) – William Gibson
- The street sweeper by Elliott Perlman. I am thoroughly enjoying it and learning a lot along the way.
- The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton
- Duchess of Aquitaine: a novel of Eleanor – Margaret Ball
- Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
- The Mesmerist’s Apprentice by L. M. Jackson. I love those nineteenth century, dark historical novels!
- The Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison – what a discovery!
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
2. The last book I finished:
- A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale – Currently doing the rounds at Library HQ.
- Whatever You Do, Don’t Run by Peter Allison. A collection of amusing anecdotes from an Australian safari guide working in Botswana. Who knew Honey Badgers were so scary?
- You Said What?: Lies and Propaganda Throughout History – Bill Fawcett
- The best exotic Marigold Hotel – I read this first, then watched the DVD. The book was really fabulous!!!!! I have to say, that the movie was a lovely little movie if, (and only if) you have not read the book. The book and the movie were so different that they only seemed to have the basic setting and some of the names of the characters in common. A very disappointing movie.
- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
- Watching the climbers on the mountain – Alex Miller
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
- Seven Bones: Two Wives, Two Violent Murders, a Fight for Justice by Peter Seymore and Jason Foster
- I can’t remember, but it was probably Bleak House by Dickens or Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. The latter was more satisfying than A Year of Wonder in terms of character development.
- A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness – was a good read once I got into it – a bit like Twilight for adults
3. The next book I want to read:
- Stasiland by Anna Funder or The Fishing Fleets when it comes back to me. I started reading it but had to give it back because it had Holds on it.
- Monkey Grip by Helen Garner. This is one of those titles that I am familiar with but have never bothered to read, so it’s probably about time!
- Zero History (Blue Ant, #3) – William Gibson
- Not sure. I have few lined up to read but not sure which one I will tackle next. Maybe something light and fluffy.
- The Twelve by Justin Cronin
- Like a House on Fire – Cate Kennedy
- Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson
- I’ve already read How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, but have heard it’s amazing to hear the audiobook, read by the author. So in holidays I want to treat myself and download the audio version.
- People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
- The new Marian Keyes http://www.mariankeyes.com/Home
4. The last book I bought:
- Letters from Hamnavoe by George Mackay Brown
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville. One dollar at a garage sale!
- Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
- None – I don’t buy books – I borrow them from the library. (Take note dear Reader!)
- Seeing the Centre: the Art of Albert Namatjira by Alison French
- Burnished: Burnside Life Stories – edited by Kate Shayler
- Let’s Propagate! A Plant Propagation Manual for Australia by Angus Stewart
- The Great American Novel by Keith Malley
- A cookbook at a second hand sale
- Local Heroes – An insiders Guide to the Blue Mountains (for my Dad for Christmas) http://www.megalongbooks.com.au/localheroes
5. The last book I was given:
- Stasiland by Anna Funder – only as a loan from a book group friend.
- The Ever So Strange Animal Almanac: a Compendium and Bestiary of the Unusual and Bizarre by Sir Pilkington Smythe
- Go the f*ck to sleep – Adam Mansbach
- When we have wings by Claire Corbett
- Caleb’s Crossing – Geraldine Brooks
- a book on growing clematis – can’t remember the title…
- Graphic novel From Hell, by writer Alan Moore and artist Eddie Campbell. A birthday present for an amateur Ripperologist.
- The Reader by Bernard Schlink Better than the movie, and the movie was good!
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
6. My favourite book of 2012 :
- Looking back on LibraryThing, I gave 5 out of 5 to Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, AA Gill is Further Away : Helping with Enquiries by AA Gill, The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman, Ransom by David Malouf and Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin.
- I can’t decide between When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman and The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood. Wood’s story is in the same vain as Donna Tartt’s A Secret History, which is one of my favourite books from high school reading, but I did enjoy Winman’s writing style.
- This is hard! But I think it may be Alison Bechdel’s beautiful and heartbreaking graphic novel, Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama.
- I gave 5/5 to Neuromancer by William Gibson, The Walking Dead graphic novels, SuperFreakonomics and Maus by Art Spiegelman.
- The boy in the striped pyjamas. – the most powerful book I have ever read (and once again, so much better than the movie)
- I need to keep better records! Maybe Winter of the World by Ken Follett, that was definitely the book I was most looking forward to this year and it didn’t disappoint!
- No no, I can’t nominate one. This is the short list: Foal’s bread – Gillian Mears; Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert; Mateship with Birds – Carrie Tiffany
- 1Q84 by by Haruki Murakami
- We have to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. “Favourite” is not quite the word, but it moved into so many areas of parenthood and society, and was so brilliantly written – it kept me thinking for ages.
- Marching Powder by Rusty Young
- Buying a Piece of Paris by Ellie Nielsen
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
- Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights by Jillian Schedneck
- The Idea of Home by John Hughes http://www.love2read.org.au/our-story.cfm
2012 has been a busy year for Library staff. With 2012 having been designated the National Year of Reading we had the impetus to really work hard on bringing you more events than ever before. This year saw the introduction of several events that will continue on a regular basis – Listen In, Reading Hour and Poetry Under the Stars for example as well as more author talks. We look forward to bringing you these and more next year.