Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Perfect Dictionary and Other March Books

I read several good books in March, but this one was my favourite:

The Great Passage by Shion Miura translated from Japanese by Judith Winters Carpenter
I am pretty sure I learned of this book via booktube video. It sounded like something I would love, so I clicked over to the library website, discovered that there is one copy that usually lives in Sligo, but was checked out, and placed my request. It came in just before everything closed down. I’m glad, because I did love it.

The Great Passage is the name of a dictionary that is being compiled by people who are passionate about language, dictionaries, and creating the perfect Japanese dictionary. The person who began this project is aging and about to retire. He wants to bring someone else on board to assist the person he mentored and who will take over the project. They find Majime, whose very name illustrates the importance of words and writing. It’s an unusual name and because Japanese has many words that sound the same but mean something completely different, the characters used to write a given word are very important. Majime often has to explain his name by telling people what characters are used to write it.

The book spans 15 years or so and along the way we are introduced to other people who have passions of their own for things like cooking, making the perfect paper, and more. There are also people who are puzzled when they end up working on this project, because they don’t understand why anyone would care, but they soon come around.

I could relate to the difficulties some of the characters faced in terms of fitting in. They didn’t, of course. Some never cared and some had to stop trying and be who they were—and were better off because of it. Years ago, after I’d left academia, I was able to really spend time learning about various kinds of needlework. I’d been interested all along and by that time had been doing various things when I had the time, but there was never enough time. So I took advantage of my newfound freedom and started reading everything I could get my hands on about the history of various kinds of stitching, social histories that involved stitching practices, more stuff about women’s domestic labour (which I had researched in my academic work as well), and more. I taught myself new techniques (from books since it was before youtube). Finally, I joined the local needlework guild, which I was excited to do, thinking I’d be around other people who were as jazzed about this stuff as I was (and still am). I was soon disappointed. There were parts of the guild experience that were fun and I was able to learn a few new things. But one night, as I was sitting there fidgeting, it dawned on me. I was interested in learning everything I could about this stuff, but no one else there cared about any of that. They just wanted to hang out and stitch a little bit. It was a pleasant hobby. So I saw out the year and then decided not to be involved with the guild any more. I’m glad to have learned the lesson, though, and I kept thinking of that as I was reading this book. 

The subject of why people are drawn to certain things in such a passionate way fascinates me. I might not be interested in whatever it is that they spend their lives doing, but I can still get great enjoyment listening to them talk about it. Years ago, back in the days when we still had a little TV, I was watching a show on PBS about this guy who solved Fermat's last theorem. I am not a maths sort of person at all and it's not a subject I would normally spend any time on, but this show stuck with me because the guy was like the people in this book--his life revolved around solving this theorem. Then he did--or so he thought. There was a mistake, though. And he went back to the puzzle and eventually changed a 3 to a 5 or something like that (I'm sure it was more complicated than that, but I'm equally sure I didn;t quite get how he fixed the problem) and then it really was solved. What I remember so clearly is him crying because he had done this thing that he had been so focused on for so long. Then my next thought was, 'What will he do now? He's had this project at the centre of his life for a very long time and now it's done.' I hope he found something else to get stuck into.

British Manor Murder by Leslie Meier
I was in the mood for a cosy mystery, so I went to the e-book section of the library website and found this available, so I borrowed it. I am pretty sure I read a previous book in this Lucy Stone series years ago—Christmas Carol Murder. She is from Maine and I was living there at the time, plus I love A Christmas Carol and cosy Christmas mysteries. Because I had red that one and liked it well enough, I figured this one would be fine, and it was. In this story, Lucy accompanies a friend to England where they stay at a manor house. The friend is going to participate in a hat show, but things don’t go as planned when first one body then another is found on the grounds and in the house.

Garments Against Women by Anne Boyer
a collection of prose poems

A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde
audio version of Wilde’s play set in around 1893, poking fun at English (and US) society

 Wing by Matthew Francis
poetry collection with a nature theme

I hope you're keeping well and finding moments of quiet joy in these strange days!


JFM/Jan said...

A great way to lose one's self is in a good book. I love doing just that. I have so many books that I re-read over and over again. I can never have enough books.

Brenda said...

The Meier books are good. I have read several.

Lowcarb team member said...

I like the sound of 'Wing' the poetry collection by Matthew Francis :)

All the best Jan