Book week: You could look it up

And so we come to the end of Book Week. There may well be other books that I'd been sent at some point or another, and if I find them, I may stick in a book post here or there. But I'm ending with a book that I cannot wait to read, but that I have to wait to read because of other work-related reading commitments. So, the main thing I'm going to do here is call attention to it and talk about why I want to read it, because it's probably more useful to the author and publisher if you know about it now rather than knowing about it later...

Free book 9: You could look it up by Jack Lynch

The subtitle of the book (or maybe its tagline) is The reference shelf from ancient Babylon to Wikipedia. A history of reference books--swoon!

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When I went to the States in April to do research for my 'Dictionary Cultures' project, I had just received this book, and though I was excited to read it, I had just started Rosemary Ostler's Founding Grammars (which I'd actually paid for). It was much less bulky than Lynch's book, so I stuck with Ostler (a good read if you're interested in the role of grammar books in American history), and left Lynch behind. Then I kept meeting people who said things like "Have you read Lynch's book yet?" and "You know Jack Lynch, right?", and I had to say "regretfully, no" to both. (Though I certainly knew of him. He's also written The Lexicographer's Dilemma. He's a clear and entertaining writer.)  The praise the book was getting from lexicographers I was meeting only made me more eager to read it. 

I'd gone to the US in April because that was the most convenient time for me to go family-wise, but it was not the most convenient time to go project-wise. So when I got back, I had to put dictionaries aside for a while (they're in chapter 9 of the book I'm working on, I haven't got past chapter 5 yet). And so Lynch's book is sitting there, waiting for me to get past the catch-up reading lists I have for intervening chapters.

I have allowed myself the prologue and the table of contents. Look at the chapter listing --it has half-chapters! I am charmed!



The structure is to look at 50 great reference works. Lynch admits this is a love letter, and possibly a eulogy, as printed reference books fall by the wayside. (Just yesterday I was admitting to not using mine.) The tone, at least as far as the prologue goes, is warm and personal. Now I want to read it now even more. 

So, have any of you read it?

1 comment

  1. Just finished it. it has the usual problems of selectivity, sort of "reference-lite", but the snippets are amusing and he gauges the technical sophistication of his audience correctly, I think.

    I could do without the occasional bit of topical political snark, however.

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Abbr.

AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)