Sunday, December 1, 2013

Simon Winchester was the Guest Speaker at the AARO 40th Anniversary Party

The anniversary party was two weeks ago, but since I haven't written in quite some time, it's time I said something. I think the party was a success; we had to turn people who wanted to sign up on the day away because we had reservations to room capacity limits. Alex H., the events chair did a fantastic job, not only discovering our speaker and convincing him to speak to us, but also in selecting an excellent caterer, and so on.
I don't know if you've ever read any of  Simon Winchester's books; I hadn't. He's a great story-teller. On Monday, at the party, he told us the story of how he became a writer. He had originally trained and worked for a while as a geologist. As story-tellers do, he went off on little tangents to highlight points in his story and then came back to it. I think we were all enchanted. He is not a fiction writer, but the protagonists in his stories (and in The Meaning of Everything, he goes into whether protagonists can be plural, or not) are frequently quite extraordinary, if not totally eccentric, people. Someone in the audience, who was quite familiar with his books, asked why. He preferred not to give us a complete explanation then and there, but rather pointed us to his e-book, The Man with the Electrified Brain. It was published just this year, and it's very short and very inexpensive. (I bought the Kobo edition for under €1.60.) It's autobiographical, so it covered much of the same territory as his talk, with fewer tangents and more detail. I enjoyed it. For me, it was preparation to the joint AARO-ALP (American Library in Paris) event on Wednesday.
Wednesday evening, then, Winchester was the guest speaker at the American Library. AARO sponsored his trip, so we were privileged co-sponsors of the event and had a table at the entrance. What I discovered was that many, many of the Library patrons are already members of AARO! So, I changed the tune a little and asked these members, who are mostly retired, to get younger recruits, including their own children, who are Americans, affected by American laws (tax law, in particular), whether they live there, or not, and who need to become involved. (Hint to my own children!)
Winchester was there to talk about his just-published book, The Men Who United the States. He started out by saying he was sorry there weren't women in the story, but there just aren't. Then he spoke about what is really important in writing a book, any book: the idea, first; then, the structure; and last, the writing. He spoke about the structure of this book and how he could tie in the trails, the waterways, the rails, the roads, radio and internet networks. He based it on the five elements (according to Chinese culture): Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water. I'm anxious to read the book to find out just how he did it.
In the hope that he writes stories as well as he tells them, I took out a few of his books just before the meeting: The Professor and the Madman (The Surgeon of Crowthorne, in the UK); The Meaning of Everything; and The Map that Changed the World. I have now read the first one and am in the middle of the second. He is a good story-teller, but I think that perhaps there is too much overlap in the first two books to be reading them one after the other so soon. There was a ten-year gap in his writing them, so one should leave a gap in reading them. They are both about the Oxford dictionary. The first is about the madman, Dr. Minor, and the editor of the dictionary, Dr. Murray, with a lot of background on the dictionary, itself. The second is the story of how the dictionary came into being, from the idea, through the first editors before any publication, through to the time this book was written. The background story of the first book becomes the subject of the second and there is quite a lot of repetition. I'm skimming through this part, but I've allowed myself a pause to finish a knitting project and to read a couple of new Anne Perry books and the latest Dan Brown -- all rather disappointing, so now I'm back on the Winchester track.

1 comment:

Victoria FERAUGE said...

And I really regret missing it. But I definitely have a reason to be around in 10 years for the 50th!

However I am reliving it through Joe Coyle who wrote a wonderful piece for the newsletter - a fun FUN read.

Coming your way soon. :-)