When The Dictionary of Lost Words jumped out at me from the pile of returns the other day, I just knew I had to read it!
How could a logophile like me not be enchanted by this book about a little girl growing up in the Scriptorium, surrounded by the lexicographers working on the Oxford English Dictionary? I placed a hold, and when it arrived, it seemed to me that the book had fallen into my hands rather like the slip for the word "bondmaid" fell into Esme's lap. I'd actually forgotten what it was about by the time it arrived, and I think I enjoyed it all the more because of that.
I've always been fascinated by words. When I was a kid, I was forever asking my mum questions like "why is a cow called a cow??" Her perennial answer of "look it up in the dictionary," never quite satisfied me then, but that's what I'm forever doing now. On my bookshelf next to my treasured Austens, and Phillipa Gregories is my two-volume Reader's Digest Great Illustrated Dictionary, its corners beaten off through many years of thumbing through the pages.
But this isn't just a book about words. This is a book about suffragists, servants, and slatterns, and why their words are valued less than the words of educated men. And it is the story of a girl growing up without a mum, and trying to understand the words and the world around her. Esme doesn't see things the way other people do. The words of the dictionary are somehow more real, more alive to her, than they are to the people who spend their days organising, cataloguing, and defining them. The backdrop of Esme's world is the real story of the Oxford English Dictionary, a project that was crowdsourced before that was even a word, took nearly 50 years to get from A to zythum (depending where you count from), and rows upon rows of pigeonholes that physically held every one of the hundreds of thousands of words it defined. But despite all that work, there were words that were not included in the dictionary. Words that weren't considered important or "solid" enough. But Esme sees their importance, and sets about collecting them, defining them, celebrating them, and celebrating those who use them.
It's a thought provoking book, and I loved every word!
So what could be better than going to WORD to listen to Pip Williams tell us about her book of words? I can't wait!
The Faraway Near: Pip Williams
Friday 2 September: 6pm to 7pm
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