Famous People’s Bookshelves.

Gal Beckerman has a NY Times piece on celebrity bookshelves (“With celebrities now frequently speaking on television in front of their home libraries, a voyeuristic pleasure presents itself”) that might not be worth a post except that 1) I myself certainly focus on those shelves when they show people talking from home, and 2) Cate Blanchett has the OED and Karl Schlögel’s Moscow, 1937, discussed on LH here and at The Millions here! Also exciting to me: Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, has Heart of the Ngoni — if you have any interest in the Bambara, or West African mythology and culture in general, it’s a wonderful book.

Also, Madeline Kripke, the lexicographic collector I wrote about back in 2013, has died at 76 of coronavirus:

One question that none of Ms. Kripke’s reference books answers is what will happen to her collection. After avoiding eviction in the mid-1990s by agreeing to remove the volumes stacked in the hallway, she had hoped to transfer the whole enchilada [slang for the entirety] from her apartment and three warehouses to a university or, if she had her druthers [n., preference], to install it in her own dictionary library, which she never got to build.

“Unfortunately, it appears that no clear plan existed for her collection,” her brother, her only immediate survivor, said in a phone interview. “We are now in touch with some of her expert friends for advice.”

Make plans and follow through, people! (And yes, she was Saul’s sister.)


  1. Speaking of Bambara, I came across a nice website, called An ka taa all about Bambara. The author, Coleman, has some fun videos where he interviews people on the street, ex. this one about joking cousins.

    RIP, Ms. Kripke – a dictionary collection to aspire to!

  2. Stu Clayton says

    She bought the book and hitchhiked to Nice instead.

    My kind of people.

  3. I came across a nice website, called An ka taa all about Bambara.

    Thanks very much for that; I wanted to learn Bambara several decades ago, and I still remember “I ni ce!” That video about senankuya (“joking cousins”) is excellent.

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    if you have any interest in the Bambara, or West African mythology and culture in general

    You rang?

    joking cousins

    This is a pan-West African thing. In northern Ghanaian English this is called “playmates”, and the prototypical “playmates” are your sibs-in-law. Parents-in-law are greatly respected (in Kusaal, diem, “parent-in-law”, is used as a generic way of respectfully addressing opposite-sex strangers as old as or older than you.) Sibs-in-law: not so much.

    At Bugum-Tɔɔnr, the Fire Festival, which is the Kusaasi traditional New Year, you throw eggs at your sibs-in-law. (We in the West have much to learn from these ancient cultures.) Given that Bugum-Tɔɔnr literally means “Fire Throwing” one is tempted to speculate that eggs may be a … toning down.

    Whole ethnic groups are held to stand in this “playmate” relationship to one another, and this actually goes well beyond joking. Some colleagues of mine were travelling through an area involved in the horrible Dagomba-Konkomba war in the 1990’s, and their car was stopped at a roadblock by a group that were looking for Konkomba to take out and kill; unfortunately my Farefare colleague had tribal facial scars that happened to look rather like Konkomba facial scars, but he was rescued by his two very brave colleagues who refused to be separated from him, and by the fact that one of these colleagues was a Mossi, who stand in this “playmate” relationship to the Dagomba.

    Incidentally, all this was later related to me in a way that represented the incident as a sort of slapstick, minimising what must have being a terrifying experience and also minimising the great courage of all involved. The English are under the ludicrous misapprehension that they have a corner on self-deprecating humour …

  5. Whole ethnic groups are held to stand in this “playmate” relationship to one another, and this actually goes well beyond joking.

    That’s the conundrum of nationalism/ethnic rivalry in a nutshell. It’s all fun and games (ho ho, those frog-eating French, those stuck-up Brits, those drunken Russians!) until the violence starts, and then it goes well beyond joking. The older I get, the less willing I am to overlook the bad stuff for the sake of the fun and games. War, what is it good for?

  6. Also:

    You rang?

    Yes, I was aiming that sentence in your general direction.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    That’s the conundrum of nationalism/ethnic rivalry in a nutshell

    No, it’s really the opposite. I gave the wrong impression by saying “goes well beyond joking”: it goes well beyond in a positive way.

    The point about “playmates” from other ethnic groups is that you make fun of them and they make fun of you but you don’t do them actual harm; moreover, the practice is thought of as the same thing as happens between relations-by-marriage at the same generational level. Whatever its origin as a custom, the “playmate” thing in practice functions as a major defuser of ethnic tensions (as with my colleagues in the incident I mentioned.)

  8. OK, but are you quite sure there has never been violence between “cousins,” that even in times of ethnic violence they protect each other? Because I’ve seen too many accounts of ethnic groups that have lived alongside each other for many generations, having their differences but getting along and sharing each other’s holidays/food/etc. and joking about their differences, and then one day they start killing each other.

  9. AJP Crown says

    I do love the idea of visiting a library of 20,000 dictionaries, all in one big room or an enfilade, with padded stools where you could sit, and flipping through the volumes.

  10. Yes, me too.

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    Sad to learn about Miss Kripke’s demise. Vechnaya Pamyat. To cut and paste what I said elsewhere on the internet: “Perhaps in a juster world she would have been more renowned while alive than her brother? In any event I do hope her collection remains intact and finds a suitable new home — ideally in the mansion of an eccentric bajillionaire, but a boringly respectable research library would do in a pinch.”

  12. ktschwarz says

    I was thinking of posting this in the Fowler thread, but it fits here as well. There’s a shout-out to Fowler from Theodore Sturgeon in “Slow Sculpture” (1970), where a mysterious man is characterized by the bookcase in his lab:

    The books were right across the spectrum—reference works in medicine and engineering, nuclear physics, chemistry, biology, psychiatry. Also tennis, gymnastics, chess, the oriental war game Go, and golf. And then drama, the techniques of fiction, Modern English Usage, The American Language and supplement, Wood’s and Walker’s rhyming dictionaries and an array of other dictionaries and encyclopedias. A whole long shelf of biographies.

    Sturgeon hardly needed usage advice—he could write voices from feral child to eminent psychiatrist, sometimes in the same scene—but he would have enjoyed Fowler just for his style.

  13. Indeed. Thanks for the quote, and I should really reread “Slow Sculpture” — it’s been too long.

  14. David Eddyshaw says

    I suppose Go is an “oriental war game”, but it seems a bit odd to put it that way. “International chess, an occidental war game …”

  15. John Cowan says

    To Mencken too, of course. Odd that Sturgeon seems to know only the First Supplement and not the Second Supplement. These supplements are about as long as the original. Or perhaps there is just a missing s. Sturgeon had notorious difficulties with both spelling and typos.

    It was from this story that I learned that “How long have you had it?” rather than “How old is it?” is the polite question to a bonsai owner. But I didn’t realize at the time that getting burns from someone else’s body, even at 80 kV rather than a more typical 0.5-21 kV, is wildly unlikely. There was a case of a woman getting second-degree burns on her face from a static shock to her nose, but she had a nasal cannula providing oxygen and her face was coated with petroleum jelly.

    A Tesla arc can burn (and so can lightning, obviously), but 500-1000 kV is the typical operating range of a Tesla coil, and it’s not merely using a human body as a 100pF capacitor. An Oregon high school teacher named Samuel Dufner used one to burn messages into students’ arms with their permission; he was arrested and charged with criminal mistreatment in 2015, but the charges were dropped. I have not been able to find out if he lost his job or what happened to him after that.

  16. David Marjanović says

    “International chess, an occidental war game …”

    How widely known was Go in the Occident in 1970? Even today it’s not as widely known as chess.

  17. Not widely at all. I knew about it from having lived in Japan, but I suspect most readers would have been mystified by a reference to “go” ohne weiteres.

  18. Stu Clayton says

    More less widely known, and deservedly so: Go. Another instance of frijoles mal puestos.

  19. David Marjanović says

    Ohne weiteres means “without further ado” or “effortlessly”.

  20. Oops. German is, as you see, not one of my actual languages, though I was able to fake it for grad school.

  21. Make it “go tout court.”

  22. Stu Clayton says

    Try “reference to ‘go’ ohne weitere Erklärung“.

  23. David Eddyshaw says

    It wasn’t so much the “oriental” as the “war” that caused my double-take.
    Again, I suppose that’s technically correct (“the best kind of correct.”)

    I’ve always felt that Go is the only board game really worth playing (which I’m sure has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I am an extremely weak chess player.)

    Of my children, the only one really to take to it has been my daughter, who early on got the hang of the dynamic that you can only win by keeping your opponent continually off balance and on the defensive. It seems a much more aggressive game to me than chess, but that may well be an illusion generated by my general uselessness at chess.

  24. ktschwarz says

    For the good news about Madeline Kripke’s collection, go over to the comments on the original post.

  25. John Cowan says

    I too am useless at chess. Gale used to play it long ago, but gave up because she found that she disliked the moves. She favored games of strategy in which the pieces behave uniformly. I on the other hand prefer games with a substantial factor of chance, where the moves are dictated by dice or the like.

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