NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“It’s undeniably thrilling to find words for our strangest feelings…Koenig casts light into lonely corners of human experience…An enchanting book. “ —The Washington Post
A truly original book in every sense of the word, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows poetically defines emotions that we all feel but don’t have the words to express—until now.
Have you ever wondered about the lives of each person you pass on the street, realizing that everyone is the main character in their own story, each living a life as vivid and complex as your own? That feeling has a name: “sonder.” Or maybe you’ve watched a thunderstorm roll in and felt a primal hunger for disaster, hoping it would shake up your life. That’s called “lachesism.” Or you were looking through old photos and felt a pang of nostalgia for a time you’ve never actually experienced. That’s “anemoia.”
If you’ve never heard of these terms before, that’s because they didn’t exist until John Koenig set out to fill the gaps in our language of emotion. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows “creates beautiful new words that we need but do not yet have,” says John Green, bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars. By turns poignant, relatable, and mind-bending, the definitions include whimsical etymologies drawn from languages around the world, interspersed with otherworldly collages and lyrical essays that explore forgotten corners of the human condition—from “astrophe,” the longing to explore beyond the planet Earth, to “zenosyne,” the sense that time keeps getting faster.
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is for anyone who enjoys a shift in perspective, pondering the ineffable feelings that make up our lives. With a gorgeous package and beautiful illustrations throughout, this is the perfect gift for creatives, word nerds, and human beings everywhere.
Koenig (Charismata) brings his website of the same name to the page in this whimsical speculative dictionary of "new words for emotions." His definitions are broken into six sections: "Between living and dreaming" introduces the word for the longing to quit one's job for a "simple life" (trumspringa) and for being proud of a scar (scabulous), while "The interior wilderness" covers the desire to care less and relax (liberosis). In "Montage of attractions," fensiveness is "a knee-jerk territorial reaction when a friend displays a casual interest in one of your obsessions," and "Faces in a crowd" covers hailbound, the compulsion to wave to strangers. In "Boats against the current," zenosyne is "the feeling that time is getting faster," while in "Roll the bones," elosy is the fear of big life changes. While most are straightforward definitions, some are "featured" and come in the form of essays on the feeling the term is meant to evoke. Unfortunately, Koenig sometimes slips into platitudes (in his entry for alazia, the fear that one can't change, he writes that "even if it's true that you're no longer flexible enough to be anybody, you might be getting strong enough to finally be yourself"). Still, fans of the site will find this appropriately diverting. Agent: Heather Karpas, ICM Partners.
If I could highlight every page without feeling extremely silly, I would. This book was amazing, and I found myself hoping it would not end. It is set up like a dictionary, but tells the story of exactly what it is to be human, to continuously search for meaning in the smallest of things and to try to forget the meaning in things that are uncomfortable. I know I may never read another book like this in my lifetime, and I am rather honored I was here to experience this one. Bravo, John Koenig. I thank you for this masterpiece, and want to know if somehow you set up surveillance inside my mind, haha! These words will invite themselves to make homes in the corners of your innermost self, wondering if anyone ever feels anything that someone else hasn’t already.