Monday, May 17, 2010

The Dusty Desk Reference

by Julia Buckley

Thanks to the wonderful Internet, most of my old reference books have become dusty shelf decorations. Even my beautiful dictionaries, because of my laziness (or perhaps a desire for super efficiency) lie neglected in the face of the online information at my fingertips.

Still, I love to explore these beautiful books now and then. This weekend I perused The New York Public Library Desk Reference (Second Edition), which before online encyclopedias was one of the most wonderful compendiums of knowledge--a whole set of encyclopedias smooshed into one volume. In the '90s I loved having everything I might need right there-- everything from the Emancipation Proclamation to the recipes for alcoholic drinks.

I also liked to go to the lists of authors, divided by geographical region, and to make my children quiz me on my knowledge. They did so, grudgingly, and I created my own little parlor game by blowing the dust off the books and looking inside them.

So I'm sharing the fun of that game now: without consulting the aforementioned Internet, how many authors can you identify by the information listed after their names in the Desk Reference?

American and Canadian Authors

1. This author was born in 1876 and wrote Winesburg, Ohio.

2. This author of The Underground Woman was one of the American Expatriots in 1920s France. I was lucky enough to meet her in 1987; she was 84 at the time.

3. This Illinois author wrote Tarzan of the Apes in 1914.

4. This author of My Antonia is a celebrated chronicler of the American prairie.

5. This author, born in 1888, published The Big Sleep in 1939.

British, European, Russian authors

6. This famous Danish fairy-tale author was born in 1805, but he was no ugly duckling.

7. This woman, one of a trio of writing sisters, penned Wuthering Heights. (Can you remember what her sisters wrote?)

8. This Russian author of The Cherry Orchard was born just before America's Civil War.

9. This brooding Brit wrote The Return of the Native and Jude the Obscure.

10. This champion of A Room of One's Own also penned To The Lighthouse.

Well, how did you do on my Desk Reference quiz? Are you sufficiently literary? I'd say anything from 7-10 would be a pretty good score!


lil Gluckstern said...

What a fun test. I got them all but Kay Boyle, but then again I have been reading a very long time. But I cheated. I used the internet to find out who wrote "The Underground Woman." Space constraints make my computer the encyclopedia of choice, but it certainly lacks the "character" of a book.

Paul Lamb said...

I got all but one (Kay Boyle?). When will you post the answers?

Julia Buckley said...

Good question, Paul. I'll post at the end of the day.

Lil, I agree!

To you both, I think Kay Boyle is an undersung American writer; if you want a taste of her writing, try reading her famous short story, "Winter Night." It's about a holocaust survivor--one of the most moving things I've ever read.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Same for me as Lil and Paul--and I'm drawing a blank on the title of Anne Bronte's book, though I know I've read it.

Julia Buckley said...

I can give away the Bronte answers now: Emily, of course, wrote WUTHERING HEIGHTS, while Charlotte wrote the wonderful JANE EYRE. Anne's book, AGNES GRAY, was also based on her experiences as a governess. Anne also wrote a book called THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL.

Julia Buckley said...

American answers:
Sherwood Anderson
Kay Boyle
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Willa Cather
Raymond Chandler

Julia Buckley said...

European Answers:
Hans Christian Andersen
Emily Bronte
Anton Chekov
Thomas Hardy
Virginia Woolf

Shalanna said...

It's "expatriate." Why isn't that in the Desk Reference? *wink*

Julia Buckley said...

Ugh. Nailed me, Shalanna. And with such delicate irony.