The Book that Changed My Life

2 Apr 2014

Last week I was asked to write a piece about The Book That Changed My Life. I wracked my brains for ages – thinking of things like Jane Eyre or Rebel Pony  – yes really – a book I read repeatedly as a child – the book that got me hooked on reading.

But then I realised that there is only one book that I can honestly say changed my life. It’s the book that made me believe I could be a writer. It’s the first place I saw my name in print. It’s been sitting on the shelves of every home I’ve ever lived in – so much part of the furniture that I don’t even notice it any more. I wouldn’t dream of reading it for pleasure. But I treasure it.

It’s The Collins Robert bilingual dictionary – written, painstakingly, over years and years, by my mum.  The first edition was published 1978 (see her proud pic, left).  I used to have to fight my way through index cards, stacks of paper, shelves and shelves of dictionaries to say hello to her when I got back from school each day. The family joke is that when The Dictionary was finally published, I was dim enough to be genuinely confused, since I thought ‘The Dictionary’ was a place in our house (‘mum’s at The Dictionary again’ or …’where’s mum?’ ‘The Dictonary’).

She went on to do other editions, other dictionaries, other lexicographical projects – her work changed the face of lexicography forever in fact – but this book that started it all will always be the most special.

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