I’m still recovering from midday Christmas dinner, but I’ve regained enough energy to post about those of my gifts that might interest LH readers. Pride of place goes to a couple of brand-new reference works, The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, 13th Edition and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. I own earlier editions of both, which have long been among my very favorite books; these updates are unbelievably gorgeous, superb products of the bookmaker’s art, and I will be spending a great deal of time poring over both of them. There is an overblown controversy over the atlas because a map apparently incorrectly shows the amount of loss of Greenland’s permanent ice cover since 1999, and what with all the uproar over global warming it got a lot of publicity. I’m not saying that’s insignificant, and the publisher should definitely be embarrassed, but some Amazon customers are saying idiotic things like “Sounds like a pretty big mistake. Wonder how many others have crept into this edition?” News flash: every reference book has errors, but the people at the Times Atlas have been doing this for a long time (my copy came with a gorgeous reproduction of the world map from the first, 1922, edition) and they know what they’re doing. Anyone who needs a high level of detail and can afford this magnificent atlas would be foolish to settle for a lesser one—unless, of course, they’re obsessed with Greenland’s ice cover, in which case they should probably get a more specialized work anyway.
This is my third AHD; I bought the first edition as soon as it came out (during my sophomore year of college), and I remember how thrilled I was with the smell (yes, I’m a book-sniffer), the illustrations, the etymologies, and above all the appendix of Indo-European roots with its introduction by Calvert Watkins, one of the two leading American specialists in the field (I studied with the other, Warren Cowgill). I read it to pieces, quite literally; by the time I reluctantly discarded it (during one of the four moves we’ve made in the last decade), the boards had long since separated from the pages, many of which had been reduced to scraps. I got the fourth edition at the Strand in NYC, and was delighted with the addition of an appendix of Semitic roots; ten years have passed since then, and the dictionary has added 10,000 new words and senses. In the Introduction they mention a number of them, including ghrelin, a hormone that promotes hunger and growth, notable because its discoverers named it after the Proto-Indo-European reconstructed root *ghrē ‘to grow’; it’s surely the only English word in part borrowed, rather than descended, from PIE. Some other words new in this edition I noticed flipping through are kalbi (also galbi), “A Korean dish consisting of marinated, grilled short ribs, often served wrapped in a lettuce leaf with rice and red bean paste” [Korean, rib, ribs < Middle Korean kari-spjə: kari, rib + spjə, bone]; khimar, “A long headscarf worn by Muslim women, typically gathered or fastened under the chin and covering the body to a variable length” [Arabic ḫimār, covering < ḫamara to cover, conceal; see ḫmr in App. II] (this is accompanied by a typically beautiful and informative photo); and Khitan, “A member of a Mongol people who established the Khitan Liao dynasty in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia in the 10th century” [Akin to Persian Khutan and Mandarin Qìdā (< Middle Chinese, khit tan), ultimately < the Khitan ethnic self-designation of unknown meaning]—this is also the source of Russian Китай ‘China.’
The other books are Lightning Rods, by Helen DeWitt (who gave me this?? it arrived in a box from Amazon with no indication of the sender!); The Translator in the Text: On Reading Russian Literature in English, by Rachel May; Snowdrops, by A. D. Miller (a thriller set in contemporary Moscow, from which I’ve already learned the word minigarch ‘a rich Russian, but one of lesser financial worth than the oligarchs’); and The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success, by Geoffrey Lewis, which has been enthusiastically recommended to me more than once and which I am very much looking forward to.
Other wonderful gifts are a set of eight movies by Hou Hsiao-hsien, a copy of Visconti’s great The Leopard (see this LH post), and jazz CDs by Michael Formanek (The Rub and Spare Change), Paul Motian (Lost In A Dream), Myra Melford (The Whole Tree Gone), and Miles Davis (Live in Europe 1967, the final testament of his great mid-’60s quintet). As always, I am deeply grateful for the generosity of family and friends, and among the latter I am pleased to count a number of long-time LH readers, some of whom I’ve met and others I hope someday to meet. My heartfelt thanks to all.