The Dictionary

My sister’s faith is in learning. Her sacred text is the Oxford English Dictionary. Elizabeth Gilbert

I have a dictionary on my computer, located in the Dock, as it is called on the MacBook Air. As I am writing something or should I say, typing on the keyboard, I sometimes check the dictionary to be sure of a word’s spelling or if I have used it correctly.

But what does “soulful” even mean? The dictionary has it this way: “expressing or appearing to express deep and often sorrowful feeling.” Zadie Smith

The dictionary also has a Thesaurus if I want to search for an alternative word, something I rarely do and a reference to Wikipedia if I want further information about the word, concept or person.

I ask myself if this digital dictionary is any different from the printed one, that is nearby on my desk? I try to think of how so and can’t come up with any reason to view them differently.

Am I surrendering to the ease of the digital world, like I often feel when I use goggle to find something I should know or remember? Or are these tools, as James Wood says, “both a gift of the digital world and a judgment on my scant acquaintance with the actual world.”

I am reminded once again of the fruitless debate of the differences between the experience of reading a printed book compared to its e-book version. I have no strong feelings about this matter and believe until unequivocal evidence suggests otherwise, reading these two versions of the same book scarcely matters.

I have read the printed and e-book version of the same book, sometimes one version before the other, sometimes, in the reverse order. Regardless, the number of passages I copy, the pleasures I derive from the book, and my recollection of it do not differ.

Yes, this is but one person’s belief that sometimes includes a comparison with a friend who has done the same thing. There is nothing better in the way of evidence at this time or in the foreseeable future.

Not long ago I re-read Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon. Five years ago I read the print version, this time I read the e-book version. It remains one of the finest books I ever read. I thought it was time to read it again and I wanted very much to do so.

The best education comes from knowing only one book. James Salter

Other than forgetting a great deal of the detail, I did mark more passages this time in the e-book version. It is difficult to know why. What is important to me is that the novel’s brilliance hasn’t faded.

Recently I read the e-book version of Zia Hader Rahman’s In the Light of What We Know, a book that appeals to me as much as Mercier’s. I know I will read the print version in due course. It is that good, also a philosophical novel dense with ideas and questions that I want to remember.

There are an abundance of words and concepts that have taken me to that little dictionary that resides in the Dock of my computer. Thank you very much all the wordsmiths at Apple.


Linda said...

Oh yes, I thank the gods of technology every day for bringing references and wisdom to us with a click of a simple device. I need to learn how to mark and annotate passages on my Kindle. There has to be a way to do that and get them into my computer.

Richard Katzev said...

You don't know how to highlight passages? I am surprised. It is very easy. Run your cursor or arrow over the passage, hold it for a second, and then chose a color to highlight it. When you are finished with the book, go to your highlight page on Amazon and copy all the passages in the book that you have highlighted. Then copy them and paste in a Word document. Edit them if you wish, removing the numbers, and the copy those in the Word document and paste them in your commonplace book. If you have questions, send me an email.

Stefanie said...

Oh how I love that little dictionary on my Mac Dock! It is a pretty good dictionary. I had gone without it for a few years until I got a new computer recently. When I was in library school doing digital library tech I was uninstalling some not Mac friendly software that had gone very wrong and lost the dictionary and Garage Band and a few other things. The Mac start up discs do not have the Dictionary on them. I was very sad.

Richard Katzev said...

I use the dictionary in the dock all the time. If you are a good speller, it is easy. If you are not, as I am, sometimes I have difficulty find the word. So then I google the word or my approximation of it and bingo, google tells me how to spell it. No more hauling around a heavy dictionary, although I confess, I still like reading them, especially the classic Webster that I once had a special stand upon which it rested.

Stefanie said...

Google does come in handy for spelling! I have an enormous American Heritage dictionary I love but I rarely use it because it probably weighs about 15 pounds. I will never get rid of it though. Maybe I cold find a table to put it on or figure out a way to keep it on my desk for easier access. Hmm

Richard Katzev said...

You might try something like this:


We once had a huge dictionary, a Webster's classic and we set it upon a stand with legs. In time with all the moves we've made, we sold it to Powell's.

Stefanie said...

Oh, that's pretty! Something to definitely consider :)

Richard Katzev said...

I know you don't like to buy things on Amazon. Perhaps you can find a used one on Craigslist or wherever you prefer to shop.