Recommended Read

Bartlett, Allison Hoover. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2009. [ISBN-13: 978-0-14-3116824-9]

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is the story of John Charles Gilkey, an inveterate rare-book thief; Ken Sanders, the rare-book dealer and bibliodick determined to catch him; and Allison Hoover Bartlett, the objective journalist who finds herself mesmerized by the dance between these two book lovers.

Who among us can enter a bookstore and leave empty-handed? I know it happens sometimes—it’s even happened to me once or twice—but it takes more than a little willpower to pull it off. What happens, though, if you just don’t have that willpower or the inclination to find it? And what if the shops you enter contain really beautiful rare books, books like the first trade edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit with a price tag of $15,000?

Well, if you’re John Gilkey, you steal them.

“[Ken Sanders] estimates that from the end of 1999 to the beginning of 2003, John Gilkey stole about $100,000 worth of books from dealers around the country. In the past decade, no other thief has been anywhere near that prolific. What was even more unusual, though, was that none of the items Gilkey stole later showed up for sale on the Internet or at any other public venue. It was this […] and the fact that some of the books he stole were not very valuable, that had Sanders convinced that he actually stole for love.” —Bartlett

Still, lots of us love books and manage not to steal $100,000 worth of them, so what makes Gilkey different? Bartlett asks that very question in this fascinating book, and I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy (via legal means) to find out how she solves that mystery.


Looking for more literary high jinks and mystery? Here are a couple more recommendations for your reading list:

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde



Guest Post

This post was contributed by Martin French.

A visual representation of the connections in a part of the internet

Ever since William Gibson described cyberspace as a “consensual hallucination,” a “graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system,” it has been possible to imagine that the internet produces an otherworldly space. So, for example, when I type the word blog into Google, it’s easy to overlook the architecture and material basis of Google. The network of real-world communication nodes, or data centres, the infrastructure that makes Google possible, isn’t, in any case, readily visible. This is also true of the internet more generally.

The invisibility of the internet’s real-world architecture is strange given its absolute necessity for cyberspace’s existence. These buildings and servers make it possible for meaning to traverse the gulf between binary code and pithy blog post. Without it, there would be no way to search our digital lexicon, no possible way for you to type the word blog into your computer and arrive here, at this post.

So what makes cyberspace materialize? There are several good texts that broach this subject—too many to list here—but, for starters, Janet Abbate’s Inventing the Internet provides a good account of the internet’s early history. For those who gravitate towards more esoteric texts, N. Katherine Hayles’s My Mother Was a Computer is a must-read. It offers a fantastic and thought-provoking presentation of the materiality of the “computational universe”. For those who gravitate towards more concrete texts, take a look at John Markoff and Saul Hansell’s New York Times article entitled “Hiding in Plain Sight, Google Seeks More Power”. This will give you a sense of what produces the results that pop up on your screen when you run a Google search. Taken together, these texts are sure to whet your appetite for thinking about the real-world materiality of digital words.

The contributor of the image of the Internet Network is Matt Britt. The image is copyrighted but also licenced for further reuse.


Txtng: The gr8 db8

by Heather

Recommended Read

Crystal, David. Txtng: The gr8 db8. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2008. [ISBN-13: 978-0-19-957133-8]

One of the most notable things about texting is the impressive furor that has accompanied its meteoric rise in popularity over the past ten years or so.  David Crystal recounts some of the many dire warnings texting has occassioned, quoting John Humphrys, for instance, who writes in the Daily Mail online that texters are:

vandals who are doing to our language what Gengis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago. They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.

Hyperbole aside, people are understandably worried about what this new form of communication and orthography might mean for the future of our language. There’s no question that past changes in genres and media—from sonnets to hip-hop lyrics, from scrolls to eBooks—have had real and lasting consequences for language. It’s only sensible to wonder how texting might change us. And for those of you who, unlike John Humphrys, are still making up your minds about texting, Crystal’s book is a great place to learn more. And I think you’ll find that your mind will be put at ease. [click to continue…]


Recommended Read

Prose, Francine. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. [ISBN-13: 978-0-06-077705-0]

Seeing Francine Prose speak last week galvanized me into finally posting on a book of hers I read last winter. Reading Like a Writer is your chance to sit in Prose’s classroom, where you’ll pull out your magnifying glass to examine  just what it is that makes some of the finest books around really tick. This is a course in close reading that everyone can take.

Close reading is one of my favourite ways into the bones and sinews of a good book. You know the kind of book I mean—the book in which every word, detail, and turn of phrase feels as if it is the only one that could fit, as though it were somehow ordained from the beginning? Yeah, I’m remembering some of those books fondly right now…

But to get back to what I was saying, close reading asks you to slow down and ask yourself why the author chose that particular name for the little girl, why you don’t believe the aunt when she says she’s not drinking anymore, why it was Liberace playing on the radio when the taxi crashed. Each of these details reflects the broader story and each one can uncover another of its secrets.

Now, just as every good sleuth studies the case files of the great detectives who came before them, you can read Prose’s chapters on words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, details, and gestures to learn how to unravel the mysteries your favourite books may still be concealing from you.

Prose provides a wealth of literary examples to show you what to look for: how Edith’s tepid and ill-fitting replies reveal that she’s just not that into Albert, how a boiled potato in a spreading pool of blood can make a scene more chilling, how the movements of a housefly can reveal the mind of its tormentor. After reading her examples, drawn from so many excellent books and stories, you’ll be glad to find that Prose has included all her sources in a list of “Books to Be Read Immediately.” And when you’re done this book, if you’re like me, you’ll be tempted to head back to all your favourite reads with an eye for what’s there that you haven’t yet seen.


Outwitting History

by Heather

Recommended Read

Lansky, Aaron. Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2004. [ISBN-13: 978-1565124295]

It stands to reason that the books reviewed on the Word Blog should be about words. And so they will be. Yet, however my knowledge of languages may restrict the rest of this blog to entries about English, happily no such restriction need apply to the subjects of the books I review. And so it is that the blog’s first review will be of Aaron Lansky’s Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books.

Outwitting History is the rousing, funny, affecting, and triumphant story of how a young man; his hardworking friends and peers; and a global, grassroots network of donors, volunteers, and contacts saved Yiddish literature from the brink of extinction.

That young man, Aaron Lansky, writes Outwitting History with an energy, sympathy, and passion that is infectious. He is a born storyteller and a champion of words who has lived one of the most fascinating tales in the history of contemporary world literature and, in keeping with his passion for sharing the delights of the written word, has shared with us the phenomenal story of how he saved over a million Yiddish books.

As a student in the 1970s Lansky decided to pursue Jewish Studies and more particularly his interest in the social history of Jewish culture in the past century. He quickly realized that, in addition to Hebrew and German, he was going to have to learn Yiddish as well. So, at a time when Yiddish language classes were as rare as Yiddish collections in university libraries, Lansky, a few other devoted students, and a generous professor who taught them during his spare time created their own class.

Because they couldn’t immerse themselves in spoken Yiddish, they immersed themselves in Yiddish literature—at least in the literature they could find. Before long the students found themselves wandering through Jewish neighbourhoods, knocking on doors, and drinking voluminous quantities of tea in order to track down and borrow the books they needed for school. Many of the people they met insisted they keep the books since there was no one left in their families who could read them. Lansky realized that thousands of private Yiddish collections, full of books that had survived Hitler and Stalin as well as cross-Atlantic journeys were at risk of being destroyed, or lost to damp, unfriendly basements—and he decided to save them.

At the age of 23 Lansky created the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, and started collecting books that would otherwise have been consigned to destruction. When he set out on his mission, it was estimated that only 70,000 Yiddish books were left in the world. Six months later he had already saved 70,000 books. He’s since gone on to save 1.5 million, making them available to libraries and individuals around the world.

If you love words and revere books, Outwitting History is a book you simply must read.

Here are some links where you can

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