I would make a terrible dictionary compiler.
I am never satisfied with the clinical treatment of words and their definitions when I know a wider, more colorful explanation. Like whimsy, a breath-of-spring-breeze sort of word that picks you up and runs you somewhere bright, which the dictionary defines only as:
noun. 1. an odd or fanciful notion. 2. anything odd or fanciful.
I know that dictionaries are chock full of syllables that need to be spelled, and pronounced, and detailed into concrete expression, but I can’t help feeling that they might find room to explain that a whimsy is that thing which starts with the words wouldn’t it be excellent if, wonderful if, beautiful if… and then runs off with you. It’s that thing that you’re halfway into thinking you should stop before it gets out of hand, and the thing you’re never able to, because it would be excellent, wonderful, beautiful.
Whimsies are those things, that you swear rhyme with flimsy and think ought to fall apart on the next breath, but somehow always feel more like warm, want, will, wish, win.
I got caught chasing a whimsy today. I spent most of the morning reading book reviews and snarking back at the ridiculous ones because I needed to take the break and breathe, even though I did the exact same thing a few days ago.
And then I helped buy a stranger a water buffalo for Christmas.
Why? Because I’ve always wanted to buy a water buffalo, but never had the patience to look up what my county laws might have to say about owning such an animal, and because Worldbuilders told me that I could.
Worldbuilders has been one of my favorite charities to watch, because of the fact that they let me do something that seems exciting and a little funny – like buy a goat, or a cow, or some bunnies – but then it turns out to be something amazing for the person who receives the animal, who now has a way to put food on their table, and money in their pocket, and can help build up their whole community. Worldbuilders partners with Hiefer International to put these animals where they’re most needed, where they can change lives for the better.
I’ve liked Worldbuilders even more because the team that works it seems to understand that money isn’t the only thing to run on an economy. Most of our happinesses – our good news, our good luck, our smiles, and our excitements – lose value when they’re hoarded. If we loan them back out instead – share a smile, invite a friend to celebrate with us, gift a bit of luck to a neighbor when some falls our way, grab someone’s hand and ask them to jump up and down next to us when find something just stinkin‘ cool – they last a good bit longer. They become something tangible, memorable, and whole, instead of something that gets buried in the ground, gets grungy, and lost.
I’ve liked Worldbuilders because they understand that we’re not alone here, and that we do better for ourselves when we build each other up, too.
If you’d like to follow a whim into something excellent, check out www.worldbuilders.org for more information.
Or, if you’re already in love with this idea, you can go straight to fundraise.heifer.org/worldbuilders2014 to send a farm animal to a stranger and get a chance at some cool returns for yourself.
In the mean time, I spent a lot of my afternoon smiling, and I’d like to pass the smile on. Here are some one-star reviews found on books by Suzanne Collins, Diana Gabaldon, Neil Gaiman, Scott Lynch, George R. R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, and J. R. R. Tolkien. With some sass.
One-star reviewer: This book about time travel has time travel in it.
Me: I hear that can happen if the author isn’t careful about keeping the manuscript in a ring of salt to keep gremlins from rearranging the themes.
One-star reviewer: This book is not Harry Potter.
Me: Nope. But I bet it has all the letters to spell every title of every Harry Potter book scrambled up in it somewhere.
One-star reviewer: This book is just trying to be Harry Potter.
Me: You found all the scrambled letters, huh? I knew I shouldn’t have pointed that out.
One-star reviewer: I’ve had better nightmares than this book.
Me: That’s good. I don’t think books are supposed to have nightmares.
One-star reviewer: Books in a series offend me. They’re such an obvious cover-up for authors who just didn’t know how to end the book.
Me: Yep. They’re working really hard to get their top-level Procrastination badges from Writer Scouts of America.
One-star reviewer: This book about Scotland didn’t know how Scottish light switches work.
Me: … On, off? Or did the book forget about the special middle setting the Scots use to cast rainbows and mess with tourists?
One-star reviewer: This author is British.
Me: The author knows. He’s seen the doctors about it, but they say it’s benign, and the lawyers say there’s no use suing, because it doesn’t interfere with his ability to work.
One-star reviewer: This speculative post-apocalyptic fiction reads like a newspaper. And it gets all its facts about the apocalypse wrong.
Me: Either you have a time machine… or I slept through the apocalypse again. Either way, you’d better fill me in.
One-star reviewer: The author didn’t hold his creative property hostage from his publisher to get me a cheaper price on his creative property.
Me: I understand this. I also have fantasies about the manner in which my books will be delivered to me. Usually, my fantasy is that a very good-looking man will arrive at my front door with a puppy and a guitar, hand me the book, and tell me that I don’t have to go in to work that day because we’re going to the park where he will keep my company while I fall into my reading. Who do we contact to get this taken of?
One-star reviewer: I wanted to stop reading after the first chapter, but I kept reading even though I hated it, and now this book has wasted so much of my time!
Me: Did you read the operations manual that came with your hands? This sounds more like you forgot to toggle them from Turn Page Mode to Shut Book Now Because I Have Other Things I Would Personally Rather Do Mode. It’s an easy mistake to make.
One-star reviewer: This book is great.
Me: I’m confused. I think, you might be, too.
One-star reviewer: “I haven’t read this book yet. Please, just let me read it. Why would you ask me to review a book I have read yet?”
Me: I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a plaintive tone expressed in text. I’m bringing you a comfy sweater, a cup of hot chocolate, and one of those huge, hide-in-the-back-corner-of-the-coffee-shop armchairs, so that you can get your reading time. And I’ll stand guard to make sure you don’t get interrupted.
One-star reviewer: “This book was a waste of my money. Also, a waste of my little time left here on earth, because I will soon be gone into the unknown world.”
Me: You sound like you could use a comfy sweater, too.
One-star reviewer: I couldn’t get into this book because I was too busy talking to the police about my stolen wallet and phone.
Me: Every time you think you’ve carved out hallowed reading time, the universe takes it as a dare to develop new distractions. Personally, I’m working to keep the quiet distractions in my life – work, school, family, friends, the blinking electronic boxes – so that the universe doesn’t feel the need to send a hurricane.
One-star reviewer: This book is supposed to be for adults, but the main character is seven years old.
Me: That’s funny. The author must have assumed that all adults had the common experience of having been seven years old at some point. If you missed that year of your life, I offer some remedial courses in Playing Tag, Catching Freaky Bugs in Jars, Indoor Fort Building and Pretending to be a Doctor, Fireman, Ballerina, Astronaut, Dinosaur Trainer, Ninja, Jewel Thief or Pirate Until Your Parents Threaten To Take Away Your Favorite Television Show. You should know that some of my students in that last class have been arrested for practicing their pretend careers without certification.
One-star reviewer: “I’m not one to trash books that others clearly enjoy, but the fact that people are giving 4 or 5 star reviews forces my hand.”
Me: So… The fact that other people are clearly enjoying this book is forcing you to break your rule about not trashing books that other people clearly enjoy? Lookin’ a bit suspicious there, Bob.
One-star reviewer: There’s a fat guy named Sam in this book. The author is obviously robbing Tolkien.
Me: It’s true. When I was growing up, there was a kid on my street named Sam, and when he gained a little weight, Tolkien’s estate came around to have a chat with him. They gave him too choices: join their mob or get arrested for plagiarism. He fled town for a few months, and only ate broccoli, cabbage, and cheese. All large Sams belong to Tolkien.
One-star reviewer: This book broke the unwritten rule that fantasy books will not include swearing, sex, or violence. I hate fantasy now.
Me: That’s fair. I mean, looking at all these guys wandering around with swords, it’s only logical that no one should ever, ever get stabbed.
One-star reviewer: “I can’t believe they killed off Frodo, the supposed star of the trilogy, within 75 pages. That’s just ridiculous. Also, what’s the deal with the zombies??? I re-read that section three times and I still don’t get it. Did they eat Gandalf or not?”
Me: I think they did eat Gandalf, but then Frodo was reanimated as a conscientious zombie and taught the other zombies about agriculture. They spend the rest of the trilogy invading the Shire for its rich farmlands, until Aragorn and the rest of the company complete their sample study of the soil in Mordor and prove that the frequent volcanic eruptions in that area have enriched the soil beyond even the Shire’s high standards, and they move the zombie colony down south.
One-star reviewer: “I thought authors had learned never to write in first-person present tense.”
Me: Authors have. But this hero of theirs named Charles Dickens told them, “never say never.” He’s a real menace to society, culture, literature, adjectives, Christmas, and the future of the entire human race. That Dickens.
One-star reviewer: The anachronisms in this book are jarring. It has a historical setting, but still uses modern words, like the f-bomb.
Me: The f-bomb is an antique. It was first put in writing (with its current meaning) in 1535, and I suspect it was getting some service in the spoken world for a while before someone was gutsy enough to spell it. But, it is horribly rude to drop four-hundred and seventy-nine year old antiques. They could break.
One-star reviewer: I hate the actor that plays the main character. ‘Nuff said.
Me: ‘Nuff said, with a capital apostrophe, brother.
One-star reviewer: I judged a book by its cover. It didn’t work out for me.
Me: As George Eliot said in her – George’s real name was Mary – 1860 classic, The Mill on the Floss: “Don’t.”