A couple of interesting stories from the New York Times. I can’t get a blogsafe link for the first, so it may disappear in a few days:
Composing the Work an Ill-Fated Poet Never Began, by Alan Riding, describes a new book about (and by) Marina Tsvetayeva:
Now, in a new book published [in Paris], Tzvetan Todorov, a Bulgarian-born French philosopher and literary critic, believes he has found a way of introducing Tsvetayeva to a larger public outside Russia. In “Vivre Dans le Feu: Confessions” (Éditions Robert Laffont), or “Living in Fire: Confessions,” Mr. Todorov has organized extracts from nine volumes of her letters, notes and diaries into what he calls the autobiography she never wrote.
“When I first read the material in Russian, I thought it was amazing, but also a bit difficult to follow,” Mr. Todorov said in an interview, “because when you take all this writing, it’s not a finished work. So I decided to carry out a labor of love, to compose a book that Marina had already written so that anyone could read the confessions of one of the great writers of the past century.”
That’s a book I’d like to read. The other story is about the new breed of young, hip lexicographers: In Land of Lexicons, Having the Last Word, by Strawberry Saroyan (no, that’s not an April Fool’s joke, it’s her name). It focuses on Erin McKean, 33, editor in chief of the Oxford American Dictionary, but features others as well:
They include Steve Kleinedler, 38, who is second in command at American Heritage and has a phonetic vowel chart tattooed across his back; Grant Barrett, 34, project editor of The Historical Dictionary of American Slang, whom Ms. McKean describes as looking as if he’d just as soon fix a car as edit a dictionary; and Peter Sokolowski, 35, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster and a professional trumpet player. Jesse Sheidlower, 36, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary, is best known among the group so far, partly because he is also editor of “The F-Word,” a history of that vulgar term’s use in English. He is known for his bespoke English suits, too…
Sidney I. Landau, a former editor of Cambridge Dictionaries and the author of “Dictionaries: The Art And Craft of Lexicography” (and at 71, a member of an older generation), said a shift in people’s interests had also played a part. “In the early part of the 20th century, science and technology were very big in terms of marketing dictionaries, and they’d make claims about having 8,000 words dealing with electricity or mechanics,” he explained. But now, he added, “I think there has been a shift in terms of recognizing the importance of youth culture and slang.” In other words, people like Mr. Barrett, who marvels at a term like “ghetto pass,” which refers to street credibility for nonblacks, are in demand. He can trace its mainstream usage back to the hip-hop artist Ice Cube in 1991.
John Morse, the publisher and president of Merriam-Webster, said many young lexicographers had a natural social aptitude that helped them rise in the field. “I think if you go back 20 or 30 years, dictionary editors kind of sat in their office, did what they were supposed to do,” he said. “But what we realized – at least what I realized about 10 years ago – is that we needed to put a public face on dictionaries. Editors needed to be engaging with the public. And I think that activity is something younger editors stepped up to.” Ms. McKean often appears on public radio talking about words, and she has been dubbed “America’s lexicographical sweetheart” by National Public Radio’s program “Talk of the Nation.”
The whole article is interesting, and it’s always good to see Grant Barrett getting some press.