In my experience most writers love dictionaries and thesauruses, some love style manuals, others even adore grammar guides. I love them all, which explains my pleasure reading this week – The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus, by Joshua Kendall.
I guess it didn't surprise me that Roget probably suffered from what today would be called obsessive compulsive disorder. He spent nearly his entire childhood on the tasks of categorizing, listing and codifying everything that comprised his world – people, events, nature, scholarly subjects, animals, gardens, body parts, books, relationships, vegetables.
I haven't finished the book yet, but the other day, when I heard something about promising new treatments that would maybe one day eradicate OCD, I couldn't help but feel a pang of – well, I don't know quite what.
Surely I wouldn't want anyone who must deal with an OCD that impairs their life to continue to suffer when a treatment is one day available. Yet I could not help but also think that the world is probably a richer, more creative place because of the books, films, inventions, ideas, and artwork produced by those who had/have OCD, as well as many other disorders. What would writers have done for two centuries without Roget's Thesaurus? Aren't we all enriched a little bit because of his contribution?
Likewise, I thought of Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who has worked tirelessly over the last 40 years to redesign the modern American slaughterhouse based on her uniquely visual thought patterns, an intuitive sense of what calms herd animals, and an innate geometry ability. Her book about life as an autistic child and adult (recently an award winning HBO film) has also contributed greatly to people's understanding of autism.
The world seems to need all kinds of minds.