Thursday, May 08, 2008

Murder, Insanity, Mystery
And the Birth of the Oxford

Every once in a while, BeansTalk profiles a notable book we’re reading, be it from our (other life) book club or one we’ve just come across….so here’s an installment, again, in a very occasional series.

We very, very rarely buy current books from bookstores, unless it’s something we collect and even then, we gird ourselves and wait to see if we can find it online for less coin. Most of our books, acquired for our own reading pleasure and/or to send overseas to our equally avid reader cousin, are from thrift stores. We very much lamented the closure of one of the best thrift-store bookshops, The Salvation Army on Washington Blvd, located just east of Sepulveda Blvd. What a fantastic collection they had – and entire back room was dedicated to books, organized thoughtfully by the store’s affable Tony. But Tony and the shop and their great used books are no more.

In the meantime, we have to keep ourselves busy with the less-engaging thrift stores. We did, however, get a book that we’re reading (we just finished Elizabeth Berg’s Durable Goods, also a thrift-store purchase, from the Jewish Women’s shop on Venice at Grandview Blvd. in West Los Angeles) at one of the shops. It could be the Boys and Girls Club on Washington Blvd. west, just east of Lincoln, which is technically, we think, Culver City.

This long-winded entry is to introduce you to Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester which we’re more than half way through. It’s completely fascinating.

The big reveal is that this academic, Sir James A.H. Murray spent years compiling the research for The Oxford Dictionary and was assisted, via letters, by a Dr. William C. Minor. Minor had submitted some 10,000 entries. When Murray finally gets to meet Minor, he finds out that the good doctor is a long-time resident of the Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

The research is impeccable, and Winchester has written a book, that half-way through, at least, is as compelling as any murder mystery.

We can highly recommend it. Here’s where you can buy it: