intern annalisa

On Feb. 1, 1884, the first fascicle of the Oxford English Dictionary was published. But that isn’t where the OED story begins.

It all started 27 years earlier, when a group of old brainy guys in London (they called themselves the Philological Society of London and, incidentally, they still exist) decided that all of the dictionaries then in existence were inadequate. By 1858, they had made official plans to remedy that problem. Their method? They recruited a boatload of volunteers to comb through all of English literature and record words and their usage on slips of paper.

One of the more famous of these volunteers was a man named W. C. Minor, an American surgeon who, it turns out, was doing the research from his cell in the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Minor, a graduate of Yale and an officer in the Civil War, had been imprisoned for killing a man in London. (I wonder which volunteer was responsible for the dictionary’s definition of the word murder …)

By the time the first fascicle was published, our band of merry wordsmiths was not even close to the “M” section: It covered 8,365 words, or “a” through “ant.”

Photo: liz west via flickr

Feb. 2 was a big day for Irish author James Joyce: On Feb. 2, 1882, he was born to John Joyce and Mary Jane Murray just outside Dublin, and 40 years later – on Feb. 2, 1922 – Ulysses was published by bookseller Sylvia Beach. (Although Joyce had published parts of the book serially starting in 1918, the book wasn’t published in full until four years later.)

Even then, it wasn’t an easy book to get your hands on: It was banned in England for obscenity into the 1930s and the U.S. Postal Service tended to burn any copies they happened to come across. If you have one, though, hang on to it! A pristine copy sold in London a few years ago for £275,000, or around $400,000.

Image via Wikipedia.

This week in Cool Stuff We Get In The Mail

Dust bowls, farming, turtles and … math!? While we’ve been busy reading Steinbeck’s classic, Alex Bellos has been working on his own punny version of the tale. In The Grapes of Math, which comes out in June, Alex “delves deep into humankind’s turbulent relationship with numbers, and reveals how they have shaped the world we live in.”

- Intern Annalisa

P.S. Don’t forget – our next Grapes of Wrath book club meeting is this Monday at 3pm, EST!

We have a confession to make. We – tumblr-ers Nicole, Petra and Camila, plus our team member and frog co-parent Beth –

We haven’t readThe Grapes of Wrath. 

I know! I know! We are book people for a living. How did we manage to skip reading a book that most people finish as teenagers? It’s a mystery. It’s embarrassing. And we’re about to fix it.

We’re starting a Grapes of Wrath book club, in the fine tradition of Monkey See’s “I Will If You Will” book club (which previously conquered Moby Dick and Twilight.) Joining us will be fellow GOW newbie Linda Holmes (our Monkey See blogger), as well as experienced GoW-readers Rose, Lynn, intern Jordan and intern Annalisa. And, of course, you’re invited!

Never read it? Read it and loved it? Force yourself through it for English class? Whatever your story is, join us as we read and discuss. We’ll meet three times online – and at the last meeting, which will land on the book’s 75th anniversary, we’ll have a Steinbeck expert on hand to answer your burning questions. Because LEARNING.

Here’s the schedule:

Chunk 1: Oklahoma
Chapters 1-10
Book Club Meets: March 3, 3 p.m. EST on Monkey See

Chunk 2: On The Road And The Arrival
Chapters 11-20
Book Club Meets: March 24, 3 p.m. EST on Monkey See

Chunk 3: California
Chapters 21-30
Book Club Meets: April 14, 3 p.m. EST location and special Steinbeck guest TBD.

You can find more details at the kick-off post on Monkey See. 

We do hope you’ll join us. After all, a book club is only as good as the friends who read with you. (Also important: the wine. But since this is BYOB, that’s all up to you.)

Just remember… We all make sacrifices to finish the book.

(warning puppy still applies.)

image: carnetimaginaire, Le Chat Pelés, Bonne nuit. Via bookporn

“My life is in these books….  Read these and know my heart.” So thinks the main character of Gabrielle Zevin’s new novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

 And it’s true, isn’t it? Sometimes the best way to get to know a person is through the books that mean the most to them.

Zevin is going to be talking to NPR’s Audie Cornish this week on All Things Considered. And in preparation for that conversation, we have a question… what are the three books that best summarize YOU? 

Intern Annalisa says: “The Giver by Lois Lowry, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. Not depressing at all…”

Camila says: “The Song of the Lioness quartet (cheating w/ a series!), Frank O'Hara’s Lunch Poems, and the big ole’ book of Borges’ collected fiction”

And Rose says, “Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, The Magus by John Fowles”

How about you? What titles would let a stranger know exactly who you are, if all they had to go on was a glimpse of your bookshelf?

In honor of the 186th birthday of one of the founders of modern science fiction, here are 5 things you didn’t know about Jules Verne:

1. On March 9, 1886, Verne’s nephew Gaston – who would spend the rest of his life in an asylum – shot Jules in the shin as he walked home. The wound, slow to heal, left Verne with a limp for the rest of his life.

2. Despite his fascination with travel, the United States and the American people, Verne spent a grand total of one week in America during the course of his life. Verne’s biggest American obsession? The work of James Fenimore Cooper. Rumor has it that while he and his brother were visiting Niagara Falls, they acted out characters from Cooper’s novels.

3. Verne is one of the most translated authors in the world, second only to Agatha Christie. He has had more works translated than even the great Shakespeare himself!

4. Verne tried out a number of different things before he turned to writing what would eventually become known as science fiction. His dad, a prominent lawyer, wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, so Verne went off to law school in Paris in 1847. While there, he met Alexander Dumas, and made his debut as a playwright in 1850. Then, he was the secretary for a Parisian theater for a few years, all while writing comedies and operettas for some extra money. Before finally publishing his first novel in 1863, Verne even spent some time as a stockbroker.

5. Verne was a lifelong fan of Edgar Allen Poe. In 1863, he wrote that he wanted someday to finish Poe’s “incomplete” story The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. In 1897, achieved this goal with his novel An Antarctic Mystery. 

It’s a bookshelfie AND a fridayread!  That’s two hashtags in one!  Never let it be said you don’t get your money’s worth here at NPR Books.

Camila says, “My book-themed New Year’s resolution was to read more nonfiction, and so I think I’ll start with Consider the Fork.”

Nicole says: “Alexander Hemon’s The Book of My Lives – finally!”

Intern Annalisa reports she’s on a Neil Gaiman kick and currently reading American Gods.

Intern Jordan is reading n+1’s No Regrets, and says “As a woman and recent college grad, this book is pure nourishment.”

And of course Colin is reading Proust.  How about you?