Monday, August 30, 2010

Looking it up

I am reading DFW's collection, "Another Supposedly Fun Thing That I Will Never Do Again." It's been tough going. I phase in and out of love with it. Some days I pick it up and swear that is it written in the hieroglyphics of alien species with vastly higher intelligence. And then after a long break, I pick it up and am knocked flat by how funny and brilliant and deep it is. (and he is)

As a kid I never used the dictionary. If I couldn't figure out what a word meant through context, I figured it was not important to the task at hand and glossed over it. They usually weren't nouns or verbs. I was a very basic and plot driven reader as a child. All those window dressing words were just that. I just wanted to follow the action and inhabit that space.

To this day, sometimes I will mirror the facial expressions or make the gestures of characters in a book that I am reading, while I am reading it, reacting to the action on the page.

As a result, the following words have always tripped me up: Balmy, Nonplussed, and Intrepid. I tend to think that they mean the opposite of what they actually do. Trying to remember what they mean in this way tends to make me double back one time too many and come up with the wrong definition.

DFW's writing is chock full of words that I don't know. But I can't figure them out from context. Not even to the degree where I am at an either/or juncture. In the context, they could mean anything. But knowing their meaning directs a sentence in a very particular direction.

Among the words I have been stumbling over of late are: lapidary, assuasive, apposite, zygomatic, sybaritic, sedulous, preterite, piacular, recompense, diaphanous, epicanthically, accretive, anoretic, appurtenance, vestibule.

Looking them up, I see that a couple of them, I should have been able to reason out (recompense, anoretic, epicanthically), the rest - totally not. The best is sedulous which is in many instances defined as being the same as assiduous. Which I also had to look up the definition of, hoping that the entry does not say - "Sedulous." Or my other favorite kind of definition: "Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a sybarite." Uh ... not remotely helpful, here.

If you search under Google images for Vestibule, most of the pictures are of buildings interiors but additionally you will see pictures of lady plumbing. (Gracious!) It is apparently a building and anatomical term. Interestingly, vestibules are also found in the mouth, the heart and the ear, those pictures must show up a few pages further into the search.

Reading through this vamped up vocab is like spending time with people who are much smarter, more virtuous and or more talented than you are. You could learn so much, you want to learn more just to keep up, in their company you know that you are improving. But you also end up feeling like a doofus and wondering if there's a more relaxing and enjoyable way that you could pass the hours.

To riff off a phrase from the Jack Nicholson movie, "As Good As It Gets," DFW makes me want to be a better reader. He makes me want to catch all the passing remarks and small asides, to get a firm grasp in the main stuff of exactly what's going on. And not just the gist of the big picture. I want more. And so to the dictionary I must go. Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho *whistles*

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