The Broken Teaglass


Today’s post is by Annie at Parr Library.

The Broken Teaglass by Emily Arsenault

This novel is about Billy, a young man who gets a job as a lexicographer at Samuelson Company, a dictionary publisher in Claxton, Massachusetts.  He and Mona, a co-worker, stumble upon some odd citations, taken from a book called The Broken Teaglass.  The citations are overlong for word usage and seem to tell a story involving murder.  In addition, Billy and Mona find that The Broken Teaglass is a nonexistent book.  And most intriguing of all, the citations appear to have been written by an employee of Samuelson Company.  So they set out to plumb this mystery.

Over and above the plot, The Broken Teaglass has other features that will delight certain types of readers—word nerds, crossword puzzle fanatics, scrabble players, pronunciation purists, compulsive amateur editors, omnivorous readers, etc.

The first is the whole idea of lexicography as a career.  A lexicographer, according to the Encyclopedia of Careers and Vocational Guidance, is a person who defines words and cites when and how each word was first used.  “They spend most of their time reading books, magazines and other materials and working on their computers.”   Does this not seem like the greatest job ever and too unbelievable to be true?    Lexicographers mainly work for major dictionary publishers, sometimes from home, need only a Bachelor’s Degree, and make a salary of around $40,000-$50,000 according to the Encyclopedia entry.  !!!

Secondly is the description of Billy’s training.  His first task is to read the “front matter” of the Samuelson dictionary, the beginning pages which explain the organization of the dictionary, abbreviations used, pronunciation keys and a variety of other tidbits, some mind-numbingly boring and some surprisingly enlightening.  I know because reading the front matter of reference books is also a training tool for new librarians.

Thirdly, at a further point in his training, Billy is given phone responsibility.  Apparently, people call and write in to dictionary companies with inquiries, complaints, or suggestions.  Who’d thunk?  My mother would have been one such person, had it occurred to her that dictionary publishers would accept calls.  An inveterate margin scribbler, she was forever correcting grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes in whatever book she was reading and even rewriting whole paragraphs that she found “clumsily worded.”  She would have loved this book.

All in all, this is a good book with authentic descriptions of an unusual job (the author was a lexicographer herself) and an unusual mystery.  A couple of books that also give an inside peep into the workings of unusual occupations are The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman about newspaper work and Charlie Huston’s The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death featuring the job of crime scene clean-up.


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