THE DAME OF DICTIONARIES.

Daniel Krieger has a wonderful piece at narrative.ly about Madeline Kripke, who has 20,000 books in her West Village apartment, most of them dictionaries:

Kripke, who is sixty-nine, grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, the daughter of a Conservative rabbi. As a child, she was solitary, and often retreated into her room where she would lose herself in books rather than play with her brother, who was always absorbed in thought (and later became a philosopher).
“I read and read and read and read and read,” she says. In fifth grade, her parents gave her a Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and that changed everything. “It unlocked the world for me because I could read at any vocabulary level I wanted,” she says, and went on to negotiate more sophisticated titles, like Vladimir Nabokov’s Pnin, Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception and The Frogs by Aristophanes. She was diligent about learning words, and would enter all the new ones she came across daily in a notebook. Then she would review them, trying to commit them to memory.

The story of how she got into collecting (after years of copyediting and proofreading), and the amazing things she owns (she has a dozen “unrecorded” books, meaning there aren’t any other known copies), make this a fascinating read. Too bad there’s a typo at the very end (presumably it wasn’t Krieger who spelled jactitate “jacktitate”).

Comments

  1. “Never go on a movie date with a cinematographer, for all he will talk about afterwards is how the shadow of the boom was briefly visible in scene 29.”

  2. Madeline Kripke was mentioned here before. The dead link AE Monthly link there should now go to this profile. As John Emerson pointed out in the earlier post, she is Saul Kripke’s sister. He is here just “a philosopher.”

  3. Yeah, I was wondering if she was one of those Kripkes (I missed the reference to her brother). In a previous season of employment, I had a co-worker who was one of those Fodors. We had an interesting talk about what it’s like to be the only non-Phud in the family.

  4. I don’t know how you get twenty thousand mostly dictionaries into a West Village apartment without losing access to the bathroom, and I’m glad I don’t live underneath.

  5. Do any of those dictionaries have an index?

  6. I have a vague memory of an anecdote about a book thief who got off a charge because his lawyer was able to prove that the stolen item was not the only copy in the world, as he (or was it the original collector?) had supposed. Which fact left either the original collector or the thief (perhaps they were rival collectors?) weeping as he left the court room: “It wasn’t a unique, it wasn’t a unique!”
    The last line has always stuck with me, but now I have to wonder if the word was not “unrecorded”.
    (If the story sounds familiar, I’d love a cite.)

  7. J.W. Brewer says:

    The sources seem divided as to the extent to which she is (or was?) a dealer as opposed to merely a collector. Of course one expects a dealer in rare/used books (or in rare/used anything . . .) to carry an inventory of a size that might be so large as to be eccentric for a mere personal collection, so claiming to be a dealer can have certain advantages as a cover story . . .

  8. The OED website now makes Madeline Kripke’s childhood method of recording words she looked up blessedly easily. If you set up an account, you can save any entry. I return every week or so to browse the list I’ve created over the past year and a half, since gaining access.
    As John Emerson pointed out in the earlier post, she is Saul Kripke’s sister. He is here just “a philosopher.”
    Yeah, although I really enjoyed the piece (great pictures), you’d think a quick Google search would show that “the philosopher Saul Kripke” would be more appropriate than “a philosopher.”

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