Tuesday, April 22, 2008
This Week in Reading April 20 - 26
For a week with both such sad remembrance and hope for change, there are some very, very big literary names this week. We have the birthdays of Charlotte Bronte, Henry Fielding, Vladimir Nabokov, Robert Penn Warren, Bernard Malamud, and of course, William Shakespeare, whomever he, she, or they was, along with two little known (to Americans) Nobel prizewinners.
Also, there are other popular authors: fiction writer Morris West, mystery novelists Ngaio Marsh and Sue Grafton, suspense writer Alistair MacLean, and humorist mystery writer John Mortimer. It's also a thoughtful week as we have philosophers Max Weber, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, as well as naturalist John Muir.
This Week's Question: Which author born this week said the following? "Once you start illustrating virtue as such, you'd better stop writing fiction. Do something else .. Or join a committee. Your business as a writer is not to illustrate virtue, but to show how a fellow may move toward it -- or away from it."
Answer to Last Week's Question: In a similar tone (to above), dictionaries, which tend to be mostly descriptive, are assumed by many to be proscriptive (or prescriptive), and, by the way, so are public libraries. Actually most dictionaries merely describe what words mean to that culture at the time of publication but meanings can change over time and place and new words get coined. The study and reporting of that word change is called etymology which is the strength of the Oxford English Dictionary. But many people assume that dictionaries prescribe what a meaning, or pronunciation ought to be, rather than what general usage has made it. Not so. The same assumption has been made about public libraries from the Victorian Era on. A public library's collection reflects the changes of interest of the society it serves and changes with it.