Monday, December 7, 2009

Now I Want to Work for a Dictionary

The Broken Teaglass
by Emily Arsenault

Just out of college, Billy gets a job as a definer for the Samuelson dictionary in sleepy Claxton, Massachusetts. When looking through the citations files (commonly shortened to "cits") in answer to a letter, he and his co-worker Mona stumble upon a rather unusual citation. Taken from The Broken Teaglass, the cit is longer than normal and seems to be a story that takes place at Samuelson. What's going on?

This is a rather unusual mystery, not merely because of its setting but also because it doesn't have the building pace that mysteries generally have until you reach the denouement. Being dialogue-heavy, the book read fast even when the pace wasn't flying along. I was often a step ahead of Mona or Billy, and figured out the ending early.

My favorite parts, though, were the premise and the setting. I loved the details of lexicography and the eccentric nerds/geeks that populated the dictionary staff. It made me want to work on a dictionary! I want to find cits and put them together and, and, and. Yeah, this book definitely brought out my inner word geek. I was a little disappointed to read in the acknowledgments that the author had taken some liberties with the lexicographical process but didn't explain which parts. I wanted to know! For those like me that liked the dictionary and lexicographical information, I'd also recommend The Meaning of Everything and The Professor and the Madman, the books Simon Winchester wrote on the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

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