Dec 25, 2021

Mini Review--The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig


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.


So I first found out about John Koenig's The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows from Stephanie Garber's Instagram post! I looked into it and it sounded intriguing! This is basically a small dictionary of words that may or may not be real, based on your own opinion, yet they describe the incredibly real feelings we've all had at some point!

It's kind of hard to review what is essentially a choice dictionary. Not all words are in here. But it's a compilation of inexplicable feelings we get. Some of them tend to have a somber tone, reflecting on memories of the past, of lost love, of lost chances or some such thing. While they weren't necessarily dark and dreary, they also weren't overly chipper either. It truly was just that kind of tone or feeling you get you get when you remember your childhood best friend you haven't seen in years. It's more about remembering those happy years and the brief wondering of what happened...we grew up.

I'll admit that some of the organization of these choice words and feelings were a bit lost on me. There were times I didn't see the trend or pattern. But I also read this a few words at a time over the course of two weeks or so.

This is definitely a nifty little book for the creative or writerly types, as the description claims. I thought reading this could help get my own writing niche started up again. In some sense it has, but it's also still holiday time so finding time where I can finish reading inspirational writing material AND getting back to my own writing is pushing it for family gatherings. Lol. So hopefully in the new year I can get back to my own writing. And even if you're not the writing type, this was still an intriguing read as I never thought to have an actual word to describe the unusual, and yes, obscure feelings you get from time to time.

Overall Rating 4/5 stars

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