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10 questions for Ammon Shea

Each summer, Oxford University Press USA and Bryant Park in New York City partner for their summer reading series Word for Word Book Club. The Bryant Park Reading Room offers free copies of book club selections while supply lasts, compliments of Oxford University Press, and guest speakers lead the group in discussion. On Tuesday 5 August 2014, Ammon Shea, author of Reading the OED and Bad English, leads a discussion on Shakespeare’s King Lear.

ammonsheaWhat was your inspiration for Bad English?

I am often guilty of spectacular incompetence when I try to use the English language, and I wanted to find some justification for my poor usage. I am happy to report that we have all been committing unseemly acts with English for many hundreds of years.

Where do you do your best writing?

In library basements, preferably when they are empty of people.

Did you have an “a-ha!” moment that made you want to be a writer?

I hadn’t so much of an ‘a-ha’ moment that made me want to be a writer as I had a series of ‘uh-oh’ moments while doing other things that did not involve writing.

Which author do you wish had been your 7th grade English teacher?

Gerald Durrell

What is your secret talent?

I can distinguish between Sonny Stitt and Charlie Parker, and between Phil Woods and Gene Quill, in under four measures.

What is your favorite book?

Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal.

Who reads your first draft?

My wife reads my first drafts, and, if she is feeling particularly generous, my second and third ones as well.

Do you read your books after they’ve been published?

Not unless I absolutely have to.

Do you prefer writing on a computer or longhand?

I have no marked preference. I will write on whatever is at hand, and this ranges from cellular telephones to antiquated typewriters.

What book are you currently reading? (And is it in print or on an e-Reader?)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with my son, and in print.

What word or punctuation mark are you most guilty of overusing?

I reject the premise of this question.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Someone who wished he was a writer.

Ammon Shea is the author of Bad English, Reading the OED, The Phone Book, Depraved English (with Peter Novobatzky), and Insulting English (with Peter Novobatzky). He has worked as consulting editor of American dictionaries at Oxford University Press, and as a reader for the North American reading program of the Oxford English Dictionary. He lives in New York City with his wife (a former lexicographer), son (a potential future lexicographer), and two non-lexical dogs.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter and Facebook. Read previous interviews with Word for Word Book Club guest speakers.

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