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Labor of love?

[ 2010-07-02 10:29]     字号 [] [] []  
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Labor of love?Reader question:

Please explain “labor of love”, as in: A book on 20 local residences was a labor of love for the three collaborators.

My comments:

Labor of love means a job (labor) done for free and out of enjoyment (love).

The above example means that the three co-authors (collaborators) wrote the book for their love of the subject matter rather than money to be made from it.

“Labor of love” is an idiom descriptive of any task “that is either unpaid or badly paid and that one does simply for one’s own satisfaction or pleasure or to please someone whom one likes or loves” (TheFreeDictionary.com).

Labor means hard work. Originally, this idiom might have derived from, or at least possibly inspired by observing mothers going into labor. A mother in labor, as birth giving is known, is thus called because of the pains involved. Mothers, most of them at any rate, go through this without complaint because of the love for the child to come.

Hence, labor of love.

In the Bible (Thessalonians 1:2, 1:3, King James Version), “labor of love” refers to doing God’s work:

We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.

Here are media examples of labor of love, “work undertaken for the pleasure of it or for the benefit of a loved one” (Phrases.org.uk), and, of course, largely for free:

1. SOME fight wars with words, others with numbers. Hardly a day passes without new data on mobile apps, the small applications that can be downloaded to smart-phones to perform all kinds of feats, such as accessing social networks, playing games and identifying unknown music. Apple recently announced that its App Store now offers 225,000 apps, which collectively have been downloaded 5 billion times. Android Market, the storefront for the operating system that powers many other smart-phones, now boasts 60,000 apps and is catching up fast. And GetJar, an independent mobile store that offers programs for all kinds of handsets, claims 72,000 apps and 1 billion downloads.

As this is all part of the ongoing “platform war” between different mobile operating systems, the numbers should be taken with several grains of salt. The more the numbers are puffed up, not least with some double-counting, the more users and developers the respective app stores hope to attract. Ilja Laurs, GetJar’s chief executive, admits that his tally includes different versions of the same software—because this is industry practice. What is more, many apps are the mobile equivalent of marketing: they are given away to tout other wares. On June 15th Apple even released an app that lets users order the latest version of its own iPhone. Others apps are labours of love that have been put out free by passionate developers.

- Growth in mobile applications: Apps and downs, Economist.com, June 17, 2010.

2. Dr Johnson famously took nine years to write his dictionary, but the biggest thesaurus in the world will be published this autumn after a labour of love spanning five decades.

Work on the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1965. The mammoth enterprise has survived fire and funding problems and has had to be constantly updated to incorporate new words.

With 800,000 meanings for 600,000 words organized into more than 230,000 categories and subcategories, the thesaurus is twice the size of Roget’s version.

It contains almost the entire vocabulary of English, from Old English to the present day, giving a unique insight into the development of the language.

- After a 44-year labour of love, world’s biggest thesaurus is born, The Times, July 6, 2009.

3. In the weeks after Paul Harding’s first novel, “Tinkers”, won the Pulitzer in April, you could not find it in Manhattan. The book’s publisher was the Bellevue Literary Press, a tiny house affiliated with a mental institution that operates out of the sixth floor of a New York University hospital building.

Only the second piece of fiction published by a small press to win the prize, “Tinkers” quickly sold out of its stock. Harding, a 42-year old former rock drummer, describes Bellevue Literary Press as the kind of place where phone calls are answered by your editor—the only editor. “Tinkers” had made the rounds with most big publishing houses. After years of rejections, it reached the desk of Bellevue's editorial director Erika Goldman, on the recommendation of an editor from a larger house who had passed on it. Neither publisher nor author had the nerve to imagine worldly success for so quiet and meditative a book.

“Tinkers” patiently traces the meandering memory of a dying clockmaker as he recalls his boyhood, his painstaking craft and his mother’s placement of his epileptic father in a mental hospital. Harding moves through time with Proustian grace. No detail is too small for him to stop the narrative clock and stare. During a scene in which a man shaves his grandfather not only do we take in the “rust on the bottom” of his can of shaving cream, but also we learn how “the dispenser sputtered and sneezed a gob of white drool.” Meticulous description does not propel a plot (as anyone who reads Virginia Woolf well understands), but the heart of Harding’s book lies in this consistently lovely deluge of detail. We hear “the ring” of wood split in the freezing cold and see “the insides of the very tips of the waves” in an oil painting “illuminated by a sourceless light.” Harding’s dogged specificity never flags, and in the end it is this passionate attention to detail that makes “Tinkers” a riveting and perhaps enduring read.

More Intelligent Life: You started writing fiction after a career in music. Did you immediately experience it as a vocation or did it begin as a kind of hobby?

Paul Harding: I was pretty serious about it right out of the gate. I took a shot at writing a story, and went and did a summer class at Skidmore College. When I did that class, my teacher, by the luck of the draw, was Marilynne Robinson. She sort of sealed the deal for me that it would be a pretty cool life to be a writer. And I’d been an avid reader all of my life even though I was a musician. I was already very loyal to fiction writing as an art. So I took that class with Marilynne Robinson, determined I was going to get a master of fine arts. Wrote a couple more stories. The second and third stories I wrote I submitted to Iowa and luckily I got in. To this day, I’m grateful to Frank Conroy, who was then the director, for seeing something in the writing when it was still certainly very green...

MIL: Is teaching a way of meeting ends meet for you or is it a labour of love?

PH: It’s both. When you get an MFA that's sort of the terminal degree for teaching and writing. When I got my MFA from Iowa in 2000, I went and taught freshman comp at Harvard for seven or eight years. It was a perfectly pleasant way to get a paycheck. With teaching fiction, I just sort of find that the old cliché is true: If you want to learn about something teach it. I find that when I teach fiction to students it keeps very important parts of my brain sharp, which I need for writing fiction….

- The Q&A: Paul Harding, author, MoreIntelligentLife.com, June 16, 2010.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Firing line?

Lock horns

Unforced error

Pot shot?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)