The latest issue of Writer's Digest (August 2007) has an article about various famous writers' offices, complete with descriptions, photographs, and interviews that describe some of their habits.
I discovered a fun thing reading it regarding Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket. I've read all of The Series of Unfortunate Events to my kids, and I've loved all thirteen books. My kids have mostly enjoyed the wacky stories, but part of my personal enjoyment has come from the humor based on the author's (or the "Snicket" persona's) discussion of words.
I'm a word nerd, pure and simple. One of my favorite writing toys in the world is my Oxford English Dictionary on CD, which I got for my birthday a couple of years ago. The thing rocks. I love browsing through it. My father, a retired linguistics professor, has a condensed version in his office. It's not condensed in the sense of less text; it's condensed in the sense of othe the text being nearly microscopic. FOUR pages fit on each regular-sized page so that you can buy the set in just a few volumes and devote a bookSHELF instead of an entire bookCASE to it. (They send you a magnifying glass so you can actually read the words.) Or you can subscribe to it online. Or you can buy it on CD. It's the most powerful dictionary in the world, and as a historical writer, I can't live without it.
Okay, I'll admit it. Even if I weren't writing historical novels, I'd still want it. I love looking up words and playing with it, finding out things like why the word "second" can mean both the second of something and also refer to time (as in sixty seconds in a minute). It was fun to dig up the derivation of the word "steeple" after driving along the road and my preschooler asked why that pointy thing on the church is called a steeple. ("I don't know," I told her. "I'll find out!" And I did.)
That's one reason I love the Snicket books. He uses fun words and discusses silly meanings for them.
Which is why after reading the WD article, I decided that Snicket's real-life identity, Daniel Handler, is a kindred spirit. According to the piece, "To facilitate contemplation, he turns to his 20-volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary, which sits on a nearby shelf. Today, he's got one volume out to look up the plague, a reference for a nonfiction piece he's working on."
DANIEL HANDLER OWNS THE OED!!!
Not only that, but he pulls volumes out at random and browses through them. For fun!
A quote from the article: "I don't use it [the OED] to define words I don't know as much as to figure out what I'm really talking about."
Now that's my kind of writing dude.
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