Dictionary Days (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
Dictionary Days is best understood in the context of the author’s life history. Born in Mexico of Jewish parents, Ilan Stavans nurtured in his youth a love for Yiddish and Hebrew as well as his native Spanish. Only in his adulthood did he come to appreciate the English language. In his autobiography, On Borrowed Words (2001), Stavans described this polyglot background and reflected on his own linguistic development. In Dictionary Days he places this multilingualism in the context of his great passion for words and his fascination with dictionaries of all sorts.
In the “Acknowledgements” in Dictionary Days, Stavans explains how this book came to be. After an academic symposium where he read a paper (which came to be the chapter called “Ink, Inc.” in this book), Stavans was invited to write a book on words and his love of dictionaries. While initially apprehensive about such an undertaking, Stavans eventually agreed to this proposal; Dictionary Days is the result.
The essays in Dictionary Days are not just academic and theoretical. They are often also personal and autobiographical. In “Fictionary,” Stavans reflects on his love of the word game of that name and explains his adolescent experiences as a writer. As he examines the meaning of the word “love” in the essay “Invention of Love,” he tells the sad story of his childhood dog Coki, who abandoned his family. In...
(The entire section is 1906 words.)
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