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$10,000 and 1400 Pounds of Dictionaries

When I read this narrative about the making of the first edition of the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus by former coworker Erin McKean, I was reminded of something that happened. I was one of the book’s editors and worked with its contributors.

The writers and creative contributors who were involved — David Foster Wallace, Francine Prose, Michael Dirda, and others — had as one of their choices for “thank yous” the paper edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Choices were made, paperwork was filled out, and the volumes were shipped to those who had asked for them.

Not long after, we received an email from thesaurus contributor and playwright David Auburn. He had already received his 20-volume set but UPS said about 60 more boxes of books were on their way.

I looked into it and discovered a clerical error at the warehouse had sent 10 more paper editions of the full 20-volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary to his home.

That’s 200 volumes worth about $10,000 and weighing about 1420 pounds — heavy enough, David explained, to violate his building’s floor weight limit.

I managed to stop the books in time but it was up in the air for a while as to whether David would have to build a dictionary fort to live in after his apartment collapsed.

By the way, we’ve received copies of the new third edition of the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus and will be figuring out how to give them away soon.

Photo by Orion Montoya. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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