Friday, January 30, 2009

February's books

My theme for February is "true crime." I just received a copy of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon. This book inspired the Homicide television series. I own the seventh season of this series on DVD. I never watched the show during its original run, except two episodes during the final season, when my father, John Hayes, got a part as an extra in two different episodes: "Red, Red Wine" in which he is a corpse; and "Zen and the Art of Murder" in which he plays a homeless man in a montage scene. The show was filmed in Baltimore, Maryland, where I grew up. Since February is sweeps month, I thought I'd pick a book with a tv tie in, even though I don't watch much television myself.

The other book I have planned for February is The Year We Disappeared : A Father Daughter Memoir by Cylin Busby and John Busby.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Other books

Since I have a few more days left of January, and my latest "Year-of" book has not yet arrived from Interlibrary loan I will use this time to finish reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, which is Bridgewater, Massachusetts One Book One Community pick for this spring. I've always felt a special affinity for Rachel Carson. She died just before I was born in 1964, and we share a birthday, May 27.

This month I also read Too Much Coffee Man's Amusing Musings by Shannon Wheeler and finished reading Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer, the fourth book in the Twilight saga. One of my colleagues, who also read, and enjoyed the series, called it "mind candy". I guess it is, but it features a vampire who makes omlets the next morning. What more could you want?


Jacobs gets to shows off some of his newly acquired knowledge on the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (another piece of pop culture I have only a passing knowledge of myself). He makes it pretty far, but loses a big chunk when he uses his know-it-all brother-in-law as a lifeline.

There is a rather lengthy entry on vegetarianism, in which Jacbos gives us a lot of information on his aunt Marti, who is actually a vegan. My eleven-year old daughter is a vegetarian, and I must say she eats pretty well. She has talked of becoming a vegan, but she has failed to get me, my husband or her pediatrician on board with that.

One thing Jacobs points out several times is that his Britannica reading and his life intersect. He observes this phenomenon when he reads "X-ray style" at the same time that Esquire considers an x-ray photo shoot. I noticed a similar thing happen a few times while reading this month. I recently learned that a colleague in the Philosophy department is a Leibniz expert. I went from having never heard of him as of 3 months ago, to knowing he was a philosopher, to finding out he was also a mathemetician and a friend of Sir Isaac Newton, thanks to Jacobs entry on Newton.

Jacobs and Shea both mention that reading the last Z entry in their respective books is somewhat anti-climactic. If they had read books with an actual plot there would be some resolution at the end, but when reading strictly by the alphabet that doesn't happen. I wonder if Jacobs had perhaps ever been Zywiec, Poland (the last entry in the Britannica) if it would have had more satisfaction for him. I actually know the people who are listed last in my local phone book and I think if I were to read the phone book (which Jacobs mentions someone in his family does) I would find some gratification when I got to the end and found a friendly name.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Jacobs says in his entry on "thinking" that he is thinking about thinking. I learned from a Psychology colleague of mine that there is a name for that: metacognition.


About a year ago I went to a public lecture at a public library about lighthouses. I was really looking forward to it, but it turned out to be rather dull. It started out okay. I learned some new things about lighthouses, but it descended into a slide show of a lighthouses around the country with the same type information being given about each (height, location, etc.). What made the whole thing worse was the "lighthouse people" who were in the audience. If the speaker made some sort or mistake about the size of a lighthouse, or if he left out any information the lighthouse people felt was important they would either snicker, or yell out. It was incredibly obnoxious. They were lighthouse know-it-alls. I run into know-it-all any time I go on a tour or to a lecture. Their questions are usually not really questions but rather a 5 minute speech of their own which only serves to proove how much they know about the topic. At the end they might ask "what do you think of that"?

When Jacobs goes on a New York Historical Society museum tour and runs into a rival know-it-all with whom he competes to answer any of the tour guides questions I am reminded of all of the times I have endured listening to people like that. Jacobs ends his description of this encounter with "I'm troubled: am I as annoying to the rest of the world as this guy is to me?" The answer, A.J., is quite simply, yes.


Jacobs is not into sports, so it is notable that he sees fit to make entries under "sporting record" and "sports". He seems to think the former is too long at 66 pages. I would agree. It is hard to not be interested in sports sometimes. I don't have anything to contribute to discussions about who was traded. Sometimes I don't even know which sport people are talking about when a specific team name is mentioned. Jacobs has some of these same problems.

I do have a passing interest in some sporting events. I like to go to see the local minor league baseball team play once or twice in the summer. It just really doesn't matter to me who wins.

He does lament that he missed Reggie Jackson's third World Series home-run at Yankee stadium in 1977. He was there for the first two, but his family left early to avoid traffic. I would have done the same thing. In fact, my family did a similar thing when we went to see the Orioles play the Red Sox at Camden Yards a few years ago. My daughter, who was born in Massachusetts, wanted to see the Sox play. I had no interest in taking her into Boston to buy expensive tickets for crappy seats. I told her that the next time we went to Baltimore to visit her grandparents we'd go to a game. Until the 8th inning the Orioles were winning 1 to 0. Then the Sox started to rally and scored 5 runs. The crowd started getting obnoxious (I will point out here that we were sitting mostly with Red Sox fans). And I decided we should leave. When we got back to my parents house about 30 minutes later my step-father turned on the radio to find out that the Orioles had won 6 to 5, and we'd missed all the excitement. I am not even sorry.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jacob, Witches, and nursery rhymes

Jacobs is especially interested in the encyclopedia entry on Jacobs, and he recounts the story of Jacob and Esau, which brought to mind the first time I heard the story. I was mostly unchurched as a child, so I learned this classic Bible story for the first time when I was in college. When my husband and I first were dating I asked him the meaning of his name, James. He told me it meant "usurper". Hmmm.... Other than figuring out that it meant "one who usurps" it didn't shed much light for me, so this Baptist minister's son told me the story of how Jacob usurped his brother's birthright. And so, the preacher's kid married the athiest's daughter, and they became Unitarians, and lived happily ever after.

LSD is Lysergic acid diethylamide and comes from a fungus called ergot found in grain. One of the more recent theories about the witch hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 is that the bread that year was poisoned with ergot. I am especially interested in the Salem witch trials as I recently discovered that Rebecca Nurse, one of the first people killed, is a direct ancestor.

Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosos (a lung disease) is the longest word in the English language. Since both Shea and Jacobs saw fit to mention it. I will mention it here too.

According to the Brittanica, Horace Mann, a educational reformer of the 19th century, said "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." He is also the founder of Bridgewater State College, which was originally opened as a normal school in 1840.

I was very surprised to read the entry on nursery rhymes and see that, according the the Brittanica, Jack and Jill refer to two kinds of early English measurement. Years ago, I heard on NPR that the nursery rhyme was based on the story of a real couple in Kilmersdon, England. Jill died as I recall. This is very disturbing. I trust both the Brittanica and NPR, and one of them is wrong. By the way, if you've heard the rumor about Ring around the Rosie being about the Black Plague, you've been mislead. Once again gives the real story.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A.J. Saves the day!

One of my previous posts I mentioned that I had never seen the word bustrophredalian used anywhere besides my map cataloging class. I have now not only seen it used, I discovered why I could never find it anywhere else. The word is boustrophedon, and Jacobs uses it in his entry about the Etruscan alphabet: "Etruscans sometimes wrote boustrophedon style, in which the direction of writing alternates with each line - right-to-left, then left-to-right." A truly serendipitous event. Now that I have the correct spelling I checked the OED again, and it is there.

I am also glad to see that although I said Jacobs was more cynical than Shea, one thing he does not appear to be cynical about is his marriage. Ironically, this was one thing I pointed out that Shea was particularly cynical about. Jacobs loves and respects his wife which he makes clear in his ranting about Valentine's day (which he is cynical about, but I don't blame him for that).

I met my husband when I was 19 and he was 20, so I didn't know him when he was in Junior High and apparently annoying people with trivial facts. I have always considered this a good thing, as I probably wouldn't have wanted to ever know him well enough when he outgrew it to go out with him. Reading this book I sometimes feel that Jacobs is giving me a window into my husband's past.

Jacobs has a rather lenghty entry about encyclopedias, as does the Britannica itself. There is quite a history behind encyclopedias, and it is clear that they are not always without bias. I sometimes write encyclopedia articles and am glad to know that I can count myself among the lifes of Harry Houdini, Alfred Einstein, and Sigmund Freud. Of course these contributors actually wrote about things they were experts in. I sometimes must take a learn-about-the-subject-by-writing-about-it approach. My entries have been on topics as diverse as Banned Books Week, Prehistoric Culture, The Brady Bunch, and Columbus Day.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


One difference between Jacobs and me is that he is clearly much more in tune with popular culture than I am. He makes a lot of allusions to reality t.v. shows that I have never seen. I guess it is important to be in touch with pop culture in his work at Esquire magazine. I own a television set, but we haven't been able to get any reception on it since we moved into our house six and a half years ago. We've never subscribed to cable or satellite t.v., so we only watch things we can pick up with "rabbit ears", which is nothing. Our previous home, which was about a quarter of a mile away from where we live now did get reception on the networks and pbs. We don't know why we can't get it here. In any case, we now only watch videos and dvds. I only just discovered Ugly Betty on dvd. Jacobs reminds me somewhat of Betty. He works in a fashion magazine, but says he dresses pretty rattily. I am actually pretty impressed that he is maintaining his day job while he goes about reading the Brittanica.

BTW I don't plan on buying a digital converter box. I think it is important to maintain a certain squareness in my work as librarian and college professor.

Jacobs mentions both coffee and cappuccino as entries. His coffee entry begins where the coffee story always begins, with the legend of a goatherd who discovered coffee when he noticed his charges going berserk after eating the beans, but from there his story just goes off on a tangent.
He is pleased to discover that he knows something about cappuccino that the Brittanica doesn't mention, about its origin and the color cappuchin monks hoods. I checked several other reference sources and was interested to find that bit of information was about the only thing mentioned in them. Why would the Brittanica leave it out?

By the time he gets through the C section Jacobs has two successes with his trivia knowledge, in other words he has learned something that he shared to help someone, rather than just be annoying. He helps his wife with 42 down in a crossword puzzle and he knew coriander and cilantro were the same thing, preventing a friend who dispises cilantro from making a serious mistake when asked if she'd like "coriander" in her soup.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Beginning

So, after having read just about 1/10 of the book, Jacobs has made it clear that he has learned to annoy people with his newfound knowledge. He looks for ways to insert his trivia into conversations, and finds most people are not impressed. It is almost painful to read his description of going to a chess club and trying to find anyone who is interested in playing him, or listening to his tidbits about the history of the game.

The set up to this books is similar to Reading the OED in that the author takes the reader alphabetically on his journey, making comments on specific entries. Jacobs, has more stops along the way though, giving more insight into what is happening in his life while he reads. His quest to become the smartest person in the world seems to have much to do with his brother-in-law, and wanting to show him up. I must admit though, from the way he's described, if I had a relative like that I'd probably want to show him up sometimes, too.

Jacobs seems a bit more cynical than Shea, but he seems to be having more fun with this, too.

Aztec is the last word in the A section of the book. When Jacobs finishes reading it he describes doing "a little touchdown dance". All I can think is that it is a bit premature. Shea doesn't do such a thing until he finishes the Z section of the OED.

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Book

A few hours after I finished writing about the OED, the next book on my list, The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, by A.J. Jacobs, was delivered to my office. (I love working in a library). I will segue into this book with a word a learned in the last one: Omnisciturient - desiring omniscience. Shea has this to say: "Wanting to know everything might generously be called a very bad idea." Jacobs, who is clearly a kindred spirit of Shea sets out to read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica. I am interested to see that both authors describe at the start of their books the event of having the books delivered to their respective apartments.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Wrapping it up

Shea spends so much time in libraries that in his preface to the letter O he says he "developed a morbid fear that I am turning into one of the 'Library People'." As well he should be concerned because as he says "you can easily spot them by their noticeable lack of social skills." Any library worker reading this passage will nod knowingly. Most "Library People" are harmless, but they can be annoying when they leave their reading to come discuss some esoteric library issue with us, and don't seem to understand when we need to do other work. I will say this for Shea, he understands that not everyone who works in a library is a librarian. Most are not, in fact.

I lived in Tucson, Arizona in the early 1990s. Since then my favorite smell has been of the the Sonoran Desert after it rains. It is a beautifully sweet smell. I am so glad I read Shea's book as I now know this word: Petrichor - the pleasant loamy smell of rain on the ground especially after a long dry spell.

No notes on Q

Whenever I go to a Librarian conference I am sadly struck by how much we deserve our stereotype. Few are dressed well, and I have been to some deadly dull presentations. When Shea mentions that he decides to attend the diannual conference of the Dictionary Society of North America in Chicago as he is wrapping up "R" my first thought was "what must these people look like?" I get a partial answer to my question two pages later with this observation of Shea "The first thing I notice about my fellow attendees is that an alarmingly large number of them wear bow ties."

In a previous post I mention the word sequipedialian. I now also know the word "sequihoral" - lasting an hour and a half. I can't wait to use it.

U and V apparently didn't thrill me much.

I love to watch movies about librarians Having traveled to Transylvania, I also love movies about vampires. My two passions are brought together in Transylvania Twist. Just imagine the hilarity that ensues when a librarian's nephew travels to Transylvania to retrieve an overdue library book from a vampire. Anyway, one thing this sequihoral spoof features are "Wailers" - professional mourners who are paid to weep. I think in this movie they were called "rent a mourners". Another movie that brings together librarians and vampires is Blade.

Shea offers some advice on reading dictionaries as he begins the X section. He specifically mentions to "stay away from . . . dictionaries for students learning English as a Second Language. As a language teacher myself (have a mentioned yet that I am a Spanish instructor?) I would say this advice may be sound if you are a native English speaker, but if you are an ESL student these dictionaries are probably great. I discuss in an early post my own aborted attempt at reading a dictionary, but I do love to browse my Spanish-English dictionary for new words.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Notes on H-N

I actually didn't mark anything in the "H" section, but my anal-retentive-librarian sensibilities prevent me from discussing "I" until I have mentioned H.

So, what I learned about the letter I is that it used to be used as a prefix on verbs to indicate the past participle. "i-lend is the pa. pple. of lend and "i-called is the pa. pple of call". What struck me about this is that i is now a prefix for everything "Apple" (i-pod, i-tunes). Apple looks strangley like the abbreviations pa. pple used in the OED. Is this a coincidence?

I also learned in the letter I that "impedimenta" (such things as to impede progress) is a real word. It was not made up as a spell in Harry Potter.

The last word in the J-section is jocoserious - "half serious and half in jest" which Shea says is an example of itself. One of my favorite words in sequipedialian which means a word with many syllables. The break down is thus: sequi meaning one and one half; and ped a foot - so we have a word that is a foot and a half long.

This segues well into my next note. Shea discusses words that are not in the dictionary as his preface to the "K" section. I was glad to see that he said that just because something is not in the dictionary (even the OED is not exhaustive) does not mean it is not a word. I have yet to see anyone use the word "bustophredalian" (which I hope I am remembering correctly) other than my map librarianship professor in library school. It describes the serpentine pattern of the grid numbers on a topographic map.

I have also now given myself to coin a new word: "bisequicentennial" - a synonym of tricentennial.

Apparently nothing much stuck me in the L-section either. The M-section is longer than most, but the first thing I marked was near the end: "mothersome - anxious or nervous the way a mother is". As a college instructor I am all too familiar with the term helicopter parents. My daughter is only 11 and I worry less about her than some parents of adult college students do.

I don't know whether things stopped being as interesting, or if I simply got tired of making notes, but my N-section is bereft of post-its as well.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Notes on E-G

The double e (-ee) suffix "one who is the beneficiary of a specific action or thing" is the beginning of Shea's E section. He lists quite a few words that are no longer in common usage, but that really could come in handy, such as "boree" (one who is bored) and laughee (one who is laughed at). Although, I doubt we can really think of either of these as "beneficiaries" of an action. I remember learning the word "biographee" (the one about whom a biography is written) in sixth grade. I try to use it whenever I can.

I mentioned in a previous entry that I use the OED online when I consult it. Shea actually has a pretty good explanation as to why he is not reading it online. Mostly it boils down to he is not so much anti-computer as he is pro-book. I know how he feels. About 10 years ago the library I work in bought a collection of e-books (books that can be accessed and read online). I remember thinking that I wanted nothing to do with them at the time. After all, I'm not taking my computer to bed, or into the bathtub! to read. I have since come around to seeing their value as sources for research, but I don't read them cover to cover. Books are good. So are computers. They each have their place.

My new favorite F-word is "fard" (to paint the face with cosmetics, so as to hide blemishes). I never wear make-up myself. Whenever I see anyone else do it I will think of it as "farding".

The G-section begins with an explanation of why Shea has moved from reading at home to reading in a library, and he regretfully explains that he sometimes has to shush people who didn't expect anyone to be reading! Noise in the library is the number one complaint we recieve at my workplace. I am not sure when people stopped expecting to have to be quiet in a library, but it seems to be pretty common.

I used to just think of myself as gullible. Apparently I was really a gobermouche -"one who believes anything, no matter how absurd". I no longer think of myself this way. I check all rumors out at

Monday, January 5, 2009

Notes on A-D

Shea begins his year-long odyessey by describing having the 20-volume OED delivered to his house. I was interested to note that he does not give a date or general time of year to start.

I see the OED in print almost any day I am at work. It is indeed a majestic work. I have rarely used the print version though. I use it online.

As I go back through my notes for the letter "A", I notice that I marked two words. The first word Shea discusses, and the last one. It is just a coincidence that these two entries were of interest to me. The first "abluvion" - substance of things washed away, because it reminded me to move my clothes from the washer to the drier, and the last "avidulous" - somewhat greedy because Shea's comment on it is "The perfect word to describe such occurrences as when the cashier gives too much change and we neglect to draw his attention to it." I remembered last year buying some fabric at a store that was going out of business. Although I was purchasing enough fabric and notions to make a dress, and a jacket the clerk only charged me $20. Even at the going-out-of-business prices I knew I'd been undercharged. I mentioned it to the clerk who waved me away. I felt a bit smug at my fabulous deal.

The one word I marked in the B section was "bemissionary" to annoy with missionaries. My sticky note says "Try going to the Amazon." My family and I traveled to the a deforested area of Brazil in 2000. Everyone I met asked if I was a "missionaria". I realized after I'd been there for a few weeks that every other American I met was a missionary. I wondered if the people there were being "bemissionaried", or if they didn't mind. I, myself, felt a bit annoyed by them.

Shea did not begin his reading of dictionaries with the OED. He has not only read them most of his life, he clearly knows all about them. His "C" entry begins with descriptions of several different dictionaries, including histories and scholarly comparisons between several different dictionaries, and finally explaining what makes the OED different.

It turns out the "C" entry was the one I liked best, even though it didn't include my favorite C-word (coffee). Cellarhood - "the state of being a cellar" - When would you even conceive of using this one! However, I am quite likely to use Colloquialist -"an excellent talker". I know several people who fall into this category.

Shea's cynicism of marriage is evident in his editorial of the word "Conjugalism" (the art of making a good marriage". "...we still have not mastered it" are the last words in his entry. I disagree. A simple way to start having blissful marriage, is for both parties to remember to say "please" and "thank you". See my sermon on the topic. Also check out The for more advice about blissful relationships.

Shea begins the "D" section with a description of his friend Madeline's house, another dictionary-phile. It is always good to know that there are others like you.

My favorite word from the D-section is dispester (to get rid of a nuisance). I checked the OED online to see if its antonyn, repester, was included. It is not.

Hear Ammon Shea on NPR
Visit Ammon Shea's website

Saturday, January 3, 2009

One book read

Well, I have finished reading Reading the OED in considerably less time than it took Ammon Shea to read the OED itself. This was a fun quick read, which would have been considerably shorter if I wasn't constantly stopping to make notes about things to include in the blog. I had originally intended to simply write a review of each book I read, but I was so amused about so many things in this short work that I think instead that I will write several shorter entries about some of the things I've noted.

A prefix I like is meta- meaning "of a higher or second order kind" according to the Illustrated Oxford Dictionary. In reading Reading the OED I was doing what I referred to as "meta-reading" (reading about reading). As a librarian I find this immensely satisfying.

I had a friend in elementary school who read the dictionary. She was very smart, and somewhat quirky. I was quirky, but not as smart, and so thought that if perhaps I read the dictionary, too I would become just as smart as she was. I bought a paperback dicitionary and started reading with the letter A. I never got beyond it. I just couldn't see the appeal. Ammon Shea certainly does see the appeal where I never did and what can I say, but that he appears to be smart and quirky .

One reason why this book is such a quick read is that there is a lot of white space in its 215 pages. Each letter of the alphabet is a chapter which consists of a bit about what Shea was experiencing while he was reading that section of the OED, followed by some of his favorite words starting with that letter, and his own editorial comments about each word he picked.

I started reading this book with the book flap. One thing I noticed was this quote "Who would set out to read this massive work in its enitrety? Only a man as obsessed, coffee-fueled and verbally inclined as Ammon Shea". It was the term "coffee-fueled" that piqued my interest. Anyone who knows the Hayes-Bohanan's professionally, or socially, knows that we are not only coffee drinkers, we are coffee obsessors. We drink fair-trade, organic coffee almost exclusively. We often roast the beans at home, and grind them with a hand grinder. It is a spiritual practice. My favorite coffee cup came from the American Library Association and has the Dewey Decimal number for coffee printed on it. By the time I'd gotten to the letter C in Shea's book I realized he's already mentioned coffee, or coffee related products seven times. And so, I set out to count the number of times it was mentioned in the book, which turns out to be no fewer than 24.

I have requested the next book I intend to read: The Know It All by A.J. Jacobs through interlibrary loan. I will hope that it will come in time for me to read it by the end of the month. In the meantime I will try to post regularly about Reading the OED.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

I have found quite a few titles that fit my criteria and have created themes for each month. As a librarian I am starting with the theme of Reference books. The first book is called Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 pages by Ammon Shea. When I finish it I will read The Know it All: One Man's Humble Quest to become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs.

I purchased a used copy of Reading the OED through I did attempt to get a library copy, but a few things got in my way. The library I work in does not own it and it is closed for the holiday break, so I knew that I would not receive an Interlibrary loan copy before the shut down. Further complicating the matter of me getting a library copy is the fact that my local public library does not own a copy, and due to the fact that my town will not support the public library as it should, the library has been decertified by the Massachusetts board of Library Commissioners. Because of this, the Bridgewater Public Library can no longer get interlibrary loan from other libraries, and people who live in Bridgewater can no longer go to neighboring towns to check out books there. My town library has had to discontinue all programming and has reduced its hours to about 25 a week. In economic times, such as these people should support their public libraries. I do not think it is a coincidence that in Bridgewater just after the library drastically cut hours we had a bit of a crime wave which included house and car break-ins. If you are in doubt as to how much your library is worth to you, find out here: