book crush thursday: Ella Minnow Pea

No longer may we speak of the topaz sea which laps our breeze-kissed shores. Nor ever again describe azure-tinted horizons sheered by the violent blazes of our brilliant island sunrises. -- Mark Dunn, Ella Minnow Pea

The books have all disappeared. You were right about the books. We will have to write new ones now. But what will we say? Without the whizz that waz. -- Ella Minnow Pea

For starters, isn't it a beautiful title? I mean, you don't even have to know what it's about yet: just say the title, right now, out loud: Ella Minnow Pea. (Or, LMNOP?) Proof right there that author Mark Dunn is a genius, and that there's surely genius to come. (There is.)

Incidentally, I also love the cover. I refuse to acknowledge the cover of the reprint, which looks like a child's gardening manual. (What were they thinking??) This one, though, does it right.

Between the title and the subtitle ("a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable"), you can feel fairly confident that you're on wordsmithing turf. This is a book about language, lots of language. I'd say it's both a celebration of the letters and words we use, as well as an argument against silence.

It takes place on the fictional island of Nollop, where they worship Nevin Nollop, the guy who came up with The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, that short sentence containing every letter of the alphabet. The Nollopians have the sentence on a monument to Nevin Nollop.

One day, the Z falls off.

And the town's council decides it's a message from Nollop himself: they're no longer allowed to use the letter Z. In speech, or in writing. First offense? You are warned. Second: you're beaten, or placed in the stocks for public humiliation. A third Z, and you're banished from the island. Come back, and it's to execution.

The first time I picked this book up, I thought it was a fantastic premise, and a lot of good fun. It's told in letters among the characters, which become more and more interesting (and creatively spelled) as more letters fall from the monument.

The style feels quaint at first (Nollopians aren't quite like the rest of us), but as suspense builds and language slips away, the letters are more urgent, more desperate, as Ella and others try to write a shorter sentence than Nevin Nollop, and thus rescue their alphabet from destruction.

I promise you, it changes the way you look at language. It makes me want to savor every word I write or say. (It makes me want to throw most text messages and their crippled little wordlets out the window.)

Even though it's a light read, I've spent so much time thinking about it. Wondering: what does it mean to lose a letter? A word? And then dozens and dozens of words? To be afraid to speak?

If you're a fellow language-lover, you owe it to yourself to spend a weekend with this book.

Recommendation: I'd do a teatime with this one. The Nollopians are so wonderfully cozy and domestic, it feels just right. Tea and honey and toast. (Though I suppose, to match the title, you could involve peas and fish in some way if you really wanted to. I just think it's a better fit for Earl Grey.)

1 comment:

  1. I have read this. I should read it again. AND I do want to read your novel. Excited for when I'll get to buy it at Schulers. :)