"There's a law of diminishing returns on preaching". So said author Kate Grenville in a thought provoking lecture, 'Writers in a Time of Change', in 2009*. Yet everyday, in thousands of blog posts and columns all over the world, preaching is exactly what many very earnest writers do. I do it myself - often. There is lots that's wrong in our world and writers, particularly non-fiction writers, feel obliged to point these things out. Serious points, we believe, require serious treatment. The better writing avoids the rant.
A deaf bloke with dubious personal hygiene. A complete nutter who died nearly 200 years ago. And a modern day inspiration for artists and business people alike. All in the same person. Who'd have thunk it? But Beethoven was, and is, all of those things. In Search of Beethoven is an engrossing new feature length documentary by Phil Grabsky. As a movie alone it is a winner. If the enthusiasm of the interviewees doesn't wash away any reticence you may have about classical music, the music itself will break the strongest emotional levee. And it is stunningly shot to boot.
Then there is the story - and the inspiration.
Over forty years is a long time to work on a single task. Yet that has been the lot of the four editors of the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. The massive 3,952 page double volume will be released this month, the culmination of the editors’ entire careers. In our world of fast, it is a timely reminder that, sometimes, good things need time. This new thesaurus has been pulled together almost entirely by hand. Words from past and present editions of the full dictionary were studiously transcribed onto slips of paper, then sorted, stacked and re-sorted into categories, sub-categories and sub-sub-categories, and finally put into historical context. Nearly a million words were sorted this way into quarter of a million categories. And, as I said, it took over 40 years.
To judge from the gender balance in the audience, there aren't a lot of blokes lining up to see The September Issue, the new documentary feature that gives us a peek inside the walls of Vogue magazine in New York. Which is a pity, because the film has a lot to offer anyone - male or female - with an interest in creativity or innovation. If we are to believe what we are fed by the media, all conflict and disagreement - especially between those on the 'same side' - is bad. Daily newspapers magnify any difference in opinion between two politicians of the same party. The sports pages hone in on the smallest sign of disagreement between a coach and a player. And of course the tabloid press couches every tiff between celebrity partners as a sign of impending separation.
Most of us spend a healthy slice of our lives working. We spend additional time thinking about work, but these thoughts are generally focused on the job at hand. We think through an upcoming meeting, worry about a deadline or scheme about our next job change. Much less often do we think about the wider connection of our work to our community. Rarely, if ever, do we think about the extent to which others’ work impacts on, and is essential to, our way of life. In 'The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work', Alain de Botton does this for us in a thoughtful and entertaining way.