Thursday, January 23, 2014

Saving The Dictionary One Page At A Time

I didn’t want to do it, but it seemed like it was the move that needed to be made.  As one hand moved the book off the bookcase, another hand pulled it back.  The body was as split as my mind.  How could both directions be right—or wrong?

The book in question was a beat-up, old dictionary.  The tattered cover draped itself lovingly around the thickly bound pages that had not been thumbed through in years.  What good is a book if it’s not opened and read?  What power to influence remains for a book that sits dormant, quietly screaming for its life?

How did it come to this, to the point where I had to confront the facts as they are?  No one likes to see the truth when the truth doesn’t fit their script, their sense of right and wrong, their core belief of what they stand for and represent.  But the truth was this book was becoming obsolete, replaced by the floating, unbound but wandering world of digital.  If this book becomes irrelevant, won’t they all follow?

I had to stop myself or I’d lose control of who I think I am and of what I stand for.  But as a compromise, I removed the book from the shelf and placed it on my desk, now just a few feet from the office door, closer to the recycle bin than I could have imagined it would be.

The book is the Bible of all books, the dictionary.  It holds the clues to life and our understanding of the world around us.  We use words to explain life, and in turn, to help us live it, change it, and renew it.  Words are the cells of the mind, the building blocks for the thinking life.  Without words, we’d be reduced to caveman conceptualizations of the world.  Words allow us to agree, to be exact, to exchange ideas, and to instruct.  Without words, everything is vague and up to interpretation, blurry.

And here I was, ready to discard the most important book the secular world has ever known.

But I wasn’t throwing away language or words or culture—just merely shifting the encasement of words, relocating them from a printed book to the massive and ever-growing landscape of the Internet.  Let’s face it, to look up the spelling or meaning of a word, don’t you just look it up on your phone?

Still, to remove the dictionary from my possession caused a great inner debate that has torn me apart.  How could I, an English major, published author, a former editor, a book publicist and marketer, a lover of the printed word, even think to toss the dictionary aside as if it were yesterday’s newspaper?

But here we are, late in 2013, and I’m looking to find a way to resolve my inner dilemma.  It shocks me that I’m on the brink of giving up on the need to have a printed dictionary, but perhaps I need to move the conversation into a different direction.

I need to justify my actions, if not to you, then to myself.  I want to accept that it’s okay to admit I no longer have to hold onto what is no longer needed.  Afterall, we are not dismantling language or giving up on the concept of a dictionary.  The location of the words has merely shifted from a printed book to a Web site.

Oh, who am I kidding?  It’s like converting to another religion or suddenly rooting for a different sports team.  I just can’t do it.  That dictionary, if no longer functional to me, will at least remain a symbol to me.  So how does one convert a once useful tool into a trophy?

I decided to honor the book that makes all books possible by tearing out pages of the book, hundreds of them, and wallpapering my office, head to toe.  You may think I just desecrated the book but what I did was save it from a fate much worse.  Now I would hope to see the dictionary every minute of the day.  The words would feel alive again.

Pages that had not breathed in a long time, would now see daylight and have been resurrected.  It’s as if photosynthesis is taking place.  I could swear the ink on the pages has darkened and thickened, growing as the oxygen nurtures it back to life.

But after hanging several pages on my wall and staring at them, it just didn’t feel right. Something about the torn pages on my wall didn’t feel natural.

The dictionary is so unique.  It is the only book that doesn’t tell a story.  It is the only book containing every word of the English language in it.  It is the only book to explain its contents by using its contents.  You’d think we’d need symbols or artwork to explain words but the dictionary uses words to explain other words.

I love the dictionary and what it stands for.  It is extremely valuable not only to look up words you know exist and just need to check the spelling of, but to teach you words and concepts you never knew existed.  The greatest offering of a printed dictionary is that you could randomly discover new words and let your curiosity lead you.  When online, there’s no browsing.  If you don’t know what to look up, you won’t just stumble upon it.

I wish I could say my office is encased with the dictionary pages, that I work in a temple of words, surrounded by the building blocks for all books to come.  But I cannot say that. After being on the brink of confusion and confliction, I am now at peace, however.

I came to the conclusion that the words will live within me, that I didn’t need to hang them up for others to see, as if a parade was coming by.  My walls are barren.

We honor the dictionary not by letting a copy sit idle on our desks or bookshelves, but by using one, whether in digital or printed form. The dictionary is not a statue, but a life form that grows or shrinks with every word that one discovers upon its use.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014.

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