Sunday, September 12, 2010


A couple of weeks ago, the publisher of The Oxford English Dictionary announced that the forthcoming third edition might not come out in hardback, as previous editions have, and may only be available digitally online by subscription. We have not shared this news with Alex, who will probably be greatly disappointed since he has been saving up for a while to purchase the latest version of the dictionary. Although we admire his dedication to learning words and his tenacity in trying to save money for the projected cost of $1300, we really weren’t thrilled with the idea of having twenty volumes of over 21,000 pages lying around our house. Besides having nearly 300,000 words, the sheer size of The O.E.D. impresses Alex, and somehow I doubt the online equivalent will hold the same appeal for him. While Ed is enthralled with his new Kindle electronic book reader, Alex and I are still “old school” and prefer real books with pages we can actually turn.

Among the three of us, we own hundreds of books that reflect our shared love of reading as well as our individual tastes. Besides our books from college and the books we currently teach, Ed has a vast collection of books of poetry, along with biographies and art books, whereas my books include mostly contemporary novels, inspirational books, and many books on autism. Since Alex prefers nonfiction, his books fall mostly into the following categories: reference, science, and recreation. A quick look at Alex’s bookshelves reveals his various interests, and his favorite books can be easily identified by their worn covers and often bent page edges. Not only has he read these books many times, but he frequently slept with them. We have half-jokingly remarked that Alex probably learned many facts through osmosis by placing his head on his books while he was sleeping. Along with his books that are more academic in nature, Alex has several books about gambling, casino games, slot machines, and poker because he finds these games of chance and probability interesting. He also has a number of books about one of his favorite sports, NASCAR, but his favorite is the NASCAR Encyclopedia, a huge book filled with statistics about the sport and its drivers. Showing that he is a true Renaissance man, Alex also has quite a collection of medical books he enjoys perusing. Two of his favorites are the well-worn copies of the Merck Manual of Medical Information and the American Medical Association’s Family Medical Guide. More evidence of his love of science lies in his collection of The Handy Answer Books, including The Handy Weather Answer Book, The Handy Physics Answer Book, and his beloved The Handy Science Answer Book. In fact, he is on his second copy of The Handy Science Answer Book because he read the first copy until it literally fell apart. Similarly, he has an impressive array of math books about pi, his favorite being The Joy of Pi; again, he is on a second copy because the first one fell apart after Alex read it repeatedly.

Along with his special interest books, Alex has many reference books he enjoys studying. He always keeps a college dictionary close at hand along with a current edition of The World Almanac. Every year he requests the latest edition of The World Almanac for Christmas, and he has a collection of tattered and torn older editions that reveal how regularly he consults these books for information. In addition, he requests new copies of The Old Farmer’s Almanac every year, and he especially likes the information they contain regarding weather predictions and the times for sunrise and sunset for every day of the year. Alex has also intensely studied the two large Southwestern Student Handbooks my mom gave him that my siblings and I used when we were in school. Perhaps if we had studied them as closely as Alex has, we would know as much as he does. Because he also loves lists, he enjoys books that list facts, including the Guinness World Records books, of which he owns several editions. Two other favorite list books of his are the Factastic Book of 1001 Lists and I Love Lists!, both of which seem to be tailor-made for him. Another reference book he finds interesting is the phone book, which, I admit, I also find an oddly entertaining read, too. When the new phone books arrive each year, I think of Navin R. Johnson’s comment in the comedy movie The Jerk, “The new phone books are here! Things are going to start happening to me now!” Alex and I have an understanding that whoever puts down the new phone book forfeits the right to look at it until the other is finished. However, we’ve learned to share it nicely over the years. Although Alex doesn’t memorize everyone’s phone number the way Raymond Babbitt does in the movie Rain Main, he seems to find reading the ads in the yellow pages interesting. Whether he’s reading about NASCAR, gambling, science, or pi, or simply studying reference materials, books have opened up the world for Alex, engaging, enlightening, and entertaining him along the way.

“Search the book of the Lord, and see what He will do…His spirit will make it all come true.” Isaiah 34:16


Fred Haeberle said...

I don't remember you mentioning the internet. Does Alex use a computer to search the internet? You said he is following and helping with this blog, does he plan on making any entries?

Keep up the great blog.


Pam Byrne said...

Hi Fred,
Alex is a whiz on the Internet and uses Google all the time to look up anything he wants to know. He thinks there is no excuse for not knowing something because you can always find it somewhere online!

As far as Alex writing any blog entries, I don't see that happening anytime soon. Autism has profoundly impacted his language skills, his greatest weakness. While he understands what he hears and reads, generating speech and writing is difficult for him. He tends to write and speak in single words and short phrases. I figure that Ed and I will have to speak for him until he's ready. I hope that someday Alex will be able to share his thoughts and feelings, though.

Thanks for your questions and your kind support--I really do appreciate your input. :)

Take care,