It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Abbey’s has sold a great many copies of The Word Detective: A Life in Words – from Serendipity to Selfie by John Simpson, former Chief Editor of The Oxford English Dictionary, or more colloquially the OED.
Not only are many of our customers wordy people, but here at Abbey’s we have a very special relationship with Oxford University Press, and also with Cambridge University Press. By special agreement, we have stocked every available title from these famous publishers. We have had a complete set of OED on our shelves, and in one magnificent moment even sold a leatherbound edition of the OED - I don’t think such a thing exists any more.
In the early days, we also had some of the limp fascicles that were published to keep people up to date while waiting for the real edition! Today you can subscribe to an online edition, which includes the Historical Thesaurus. You may even find that your library is a subscriber and you can access the OED there. Keep in mind the OED is a Historical Dictionary. Lexicographers search to find the first time a word was used - no simple task. The definition completes the task.
You will be amazed how much information is included in the online edition. Check it out for yourself. Meanwhile read this wonderful book, which is a mix of memoir and reference. John Simpson describes the work of the lexicographer and when he spies a tasty word, he takes time to digress and discuss just how this word was handled. So this is a book you can read bit by bit and enjoy the ride. Simpson uses his wry humour to describe his progress up the ranks in the dictionary underworld, culminating in the triumph of the online edition in March 2000. It is constantly updated. Have fun!
You can’t be interested in words and not know David Crystal. His books are as entertaining as they are instructive. Recent titles include: Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar, Making a Point, The Story of English in 100 Words, and Spell It Out. More interesting to customers at Abbey’s could be The Oxford Illustrated Shakespearean Dictionary, written with his son Ben Crystal, or The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation or Think on My Words: Explaining Shakespeare’s Words. You can find these in our Shakespearean Studies section, where you will also find the plays, sonnets, cribs and audio books. Two more unusual titles you will find at Abbey’s are Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language and Tyndale’s Bible: St Matthews Gospel Read in the Original Pronunciation (audio book).
It’s not often that a novel is re-published in hardback fifty years after first publication. The Watch Tower, Elizabeth Harrower’s distressing story of the psychological enslavement of two unfortunate sisters abandoned by their mother, is now available in a special hardback Collector’s Edition from Text Publishing. And to make it even more collectable, Elizabeth has been in to Abbey’s to sign copies of her book. It is a brilliant story of marital enslavement and the struggle to retain one’s sense of self. Both the hardback and paperback are available in Text Classics. Both include an introduction by Joan London.
I recommend, also in Text Classics, her three other novels written in the fifties – The Long Prospect, Down in the City and The Catherine Wheel – which have introductions by Fiona McGregor, Delia Falconer and Romana Koval respectively. More recent publications include In Certain Circles and A Few Days in the Country: And Other Stories. This last title contains the fabulous story Alice, first published in the New Yorker.
I enjoyed reading John Meacham’s biography of the 41st President of the United States, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. I guess George H W is one of the last of that American class of true gentlemen, always working for the good of their country and caring for their people – Presidents like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eisenhower. Who else could have had such preparation to become President? Member of Congress, Member of the Senate, Head of the CIA, Head of the Republican Party, Envoy to China and Vice President for two terms to the great hero Ronald Reagan.
Well brought up, Bush was careful never to upstage Ronnie, although Nancy Reagan kept an eagle eye on everyone. Bush became a Texan businessman after service in the Air Force during the Second World War, but was brought up a New Englander – expected to succeed, but never ever to boast and always to be kind. One amazing impression I have gained is that American elections are a huge slog and cost enormous amounts of money! Where does it all come from? One more thing… although this is a very fat book (640 pages plus 240 pages of index, notes, bibliography and acknowledgements), it is a pleasure to read. Beautiful paper and nice typeface, it is best laid flat on a table while you read.
I really enjoyed Mark Colvin’s book Light and Shadow: Memoirs of a Spy’s Son. It would be useful to read if you were also to see the terrific play at the Belvoir Theatre called, unexpectedly, Mark Colvin’s Kidney. Mark Colvin is the ABC’s longest serving and most influential radio broadcaster. He still fronts PM. His memoir focuses especially on his relationship with his somewhat distant but loved father, a British diplomat. He discovers his father is also a spy, which explains how he came to spend his school holidays with his father in Outer Mongolia!
Colvin reported on many world-shattering events, such as the Rwanda crisis and the Iran hostage crisis. You will see flashbacks to these in the play, but in reality the background of the play refers to the phone-hacking crisis involving Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World in the first decade of this century. The book and the play complement each other. Don’t miss them.
Have you noticed the photos of visiting authors which Craig takes and includes in our newsletters? We plan to create a place to show these permanently. I was surprised at one visiting author whose name is Malachy Tallack. He comes from the Shetland Islands, so I thought he was a bit out of his way! He is also a singer/songwriter. His first book, Sixty Degrees North: Around the World in Search of Home, was greatly admired as both a memoir and a travel log. The 60th parallel touches lower Norway, Sweden and Finland, Greenland, Alaska and the great spaces of Canada and Russia. He describes these places in beautiful clear prose. Not surprisingly, he ends up in the Shetland Islands.
His new book is The Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths and Mysteries, Phantoms and Fakes. Be careful how you say this because he means islands which were once “discovered”, either in myth or fact, but no longer exist. Quite a fascinating story. I remember I once thought I could see Atlantis from the coast of Cornwall while sleeping out under the stars. The book is most beautifully illustrated by Katie Scott and would make a special gift.
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