Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 197 (8/19) -- Lego: A Love Story by Jonathan Bender

Popular nonfiction has not yet entirely been taken over by the stunt book -- all of those things written by authors who vowed to live in a chicken coop, or eat only vegan food, or eat a '57 Chevy, or do some other odd thing, every single day for a whole year -- but they're infesting the category like kudzu, and are as difficult to eliminate. Jonathan Bender, a features writer from Kansas City, swims against the tide with his first book, which follows the old paradigm of popular nonfiction: go out and investigate this interesting thing, and then come back and tell us about it.

In Bender's case, that interesting thing is the growth of adults who build with LEGO bricks -- please, Bender and all of his subjects cry, don't call them "LEGOs," since that's not the correct jargon! -- particularly the communities they form and the neat things they build. Along the way, of course, Bender finds himself becoming an AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO) himself, but who expected otherwise?

So Bender goes to the gatherings of adult builders -- Brickfest and Brickworld and BrickCon (one begins to see a pattern in these names) -- and visits LEGO world HQ in Billund, Denmark (and, later, the US HQ in Connecticut, conveniently near his childhood home for thematic purposes), and the LEGOLAND theme park in California. Along the way, he meets a lot of men (and only a tiny handful of women) whose hobby is to build models or new creations from little squares of plastic, and quickly wants to become one of them. (Bender also has a subplot -- which I forgive for its lack of subtlety because this is a nonfiction book, and so presumably it's all true -- is that he and his wife Kate have been trying to get pregnant -- to have kids of their own to play with -- with no success so far.)

Lego was published by my employer, so I'd avoid saying negative things about it even if I didn't like it -- but I've enjoyed LEGO myself (mostly with my kids in recent years) for ages, so Bender's explorations into the world of adult builders (and many of their frankly awesome creations, documented in photographs in the book) was a real treat. I don't think a reader has to like LEGO to enjoy the book -- it's another "here's an interesting subculture" book, like Candyfreak, with the additional interest that these guys are hobbyists who make neat things. (And LEGO creations somehow seem less pointless than buildings made out of matchsticks, for example.) It might not turn you into a brickbasher overnight, but The Wife brought home two big LEGO sets (supposedly for Christmas gifts) last night, which she got really cheaply, and I'm beginning to wonder who actually will be the one to put them together....
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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