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Book Review: The Dictionary

By Ziggy Zyzzyva



     Imagine yourself in your comfy chair, reading your favorite short story beside a nice warm fire. Now imagine that you are reading Tolstoy's "War and Peace", your eyes beginning to water with boredom while the sheer weight of the tome creases lines into your lap. The fire died out long ago, and in its place sits an old, forgotten radiator that occasionally pings then nods off back to sleep. This is the best way to describe my experience while reading the dictionary.
     A gift from my mother long ago, I took it upon myself to finally pore through its many, many disjointed chapters. At five kilograms and nearly two kilopages, this unimaginative literary bellyflop is as pretentious as it is prolix. We don't do many book reviews at the Jaywalker, and it's books like this that are behind this policy.
     For openers, this book starts by prattling on at length about how to read it. This is no mere prologue, but a rambling statement of how to comprehend the English language. Well, if I'd been just learning the English language I may be more inclined to read about Dick and Jane, rather than start off with Merriam-Webster's unfinished ramblings. Even the first chapter opens without flair, with a series of acronyms and explanations that set the tone for this tale that reads like a primary school textbook.
     Characters are introduced alphabetically without ever being developed, and are often never mentioned a second time. Some characters arise from real world history and are treated with such sterility that it is easy to confuse this book with an encyclopedia. Other characters are stolen straight from ancient mythology, yet despite recurring in the storyline, never do anything in the present tense of the story. Basically, there are no characters in this book you can't find on the back shelves of any library, and in a far more enjoyable form.
     The setting is chaotic at best, impossible at worst. One moment, you are in Australia, the next, inexplicably, you are transported to Austria. This geographic disjointedness makes the dictionary so difficult to understand you'd need an atlas to follow it. In its favor, each setting is remarkably well described (though admittedly burdened by its scholastic wording).
     If you like reading about battles and wars, you'll love this book - it has all of them. Just as with the characters, the author somehow sees fit to introduce each war alphabetically, with some wars occurring in a rapid-fire alphanumeric succession. As with the characters, each war is taken directly from history as well, and the outcome therefore always predictable. The weapons of each war, though perfectly described, are mentioned quite separately - in fact, entirely out of any discernable context. For example, "bow-and-arrow" appears defiantly bordered by unrelated paragraphs depicting genuflection, sports and ships.
     Just as with the prologue, every paragraph reads like a lecture in the English language. Each opens identically, with the author sounding out words as if speaking to a child. The first word of each paragraph is then repeated several times, the author concealing this fact by burying it deep in overworked prefixes and suffixes. 
     While The Dictionary collects together an eclectic mix of lessons from the author's interests and experience, the references seem crammed in willy-nilly. Subjects weave a drunken path from automation, through literacy, to entomology - it's enough to drive readers buggy. 
     Finally, this book closes with the same lack of flair that it opened with. The appendix seemed tacked on, even introducing new characters into the long-dead plot. Oddly, the new faces in this final chapter are the first and only contemporary characters in the entire book, which leads us to think that a sequel is planned that will incorporate the newcomers into the same tired storyline.
     To sum things up, this pedantic pontification of preordainment, pretense and prolixity proves the dictionary to be nothing more than a self-fulfilling testament to the torturous limits of the English language. If you're looking to increase your vocabulary but have no real interest in character development, plot or deeper meaning, then the dictionary is a great book for you to read. Otherwise, you're probably just better off waiting for the movie.



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