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December 21, 2009

Jamie Ford: Batteries Not Included

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Jamie Ford, author of HOTEL AT THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, exposes his inner "alpha-geek" by revealing the unlikely book that claimed the top spot on his Christmas wish list one year.

My most memorable holiday book moment is somewhat akin to a bikini wax --- painful and somewhat embarrassing, so I’ll just let ‘er rip.

It was (wait for it) a dictionary.

Yes, an honest-to-goodness New World Dictionary, College Edition, in all its hardbound, five-pound glory. I was twelve and I loved it. Then again, I was an alpha-geek, prone to reading the Encyclopedia Britannica for its entertainment value and actually wanted a real dictionary for Christmas, not one of those weak-sauce pocket versions.

Because when you think about it, back in Paleolithic times, before, this was the Marine Corp Manual of dictionaries. Not only did it have full-color “bonus” pages with all the state flags (to which my mom and I deftly added the capitals in the margins), but it also had pages dedicated to crustaceans, insects, jewels and gems, poisonous plants, identification charts for hardwoods, and that all-important diorama of the human anatomy --- sexless and sterile, much to my disappointment. Plus, there were guides to birds’ eggs, seashells, styles of painting, and even liverworts (liverworts, people!)

Granted, it’s a little dated. And sure, it doesn’t have trendy words like: dirty bomb, flash mob, and unfriend. But it still has the important swear words.

It’s ironic how some addle-minded schools will ban books like THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, but leave that fount of all things four-lettered --- the dictionary --- just laying around. Even today I can remember that a certain word was preceded by the word fuchsin --- a purplish-red aniline dye. Some day that bit of trivia will be my savior on "Jeopardy."

And that same dictionary still sits on my shelf. It’s like the family bible. I could write birthdays, wedding dates and funerals on the inside cover and pass it down.

But the best part is that my kids now use it. The cover is duct-taped, the pages are dog-eared, and we highlight the words we look up --- each person leaving a little hash mark on the page, mileposts on their own academic journeys.

And they still laugh at the inscription from my parents, presented December 25, 1980: "Batteries not included."

Wishing you a book-filled holiday season!

-- Jamie Ford

This afternoon, Lynne Hinton joins us with musings on the love of words and stories passed on to her from her late grandfather.