Would You Read a Subjective Encyclopedia?

A Norwegian bookstore invented “The Conversational Lexicon”

When a Norwegian independent bookstore, Cappelens Forslag, started going under, the owners devised an ingenious plan to keep their establishment afloat. According to The Guardian, booksellers Pil Cappelen Smith and Andreas Cappelen concocted The Conversational Lexicon — an encyclopedia that would compile subjective definitions from renowned artists and writers. The varied entries were to be “freed from the demand for factual accuracy,” and instead have the essential purpose of generating discussion.

The concept took off. In fact, there was so much interest that they doubled their original fundraising goal. The bookstore in Oslo raked in $54,235 (or €50,524), and is safe from going out of business. Every edition they’ve printed since 2014 has quickly sold out. The latest avant-garde version of the encyclopedia has just gone on sale.

The folks at Cappelens Forslags invest in the utmost quality for their beloved book. “Each [encyclopedia is] hand bound in calfskin leather by a third generation bookbinder,” which certainly comes at a cost for the buyer. The cheapest edition is roughly $80, while the earlier, limited editions can cost over $1,000. If that’s a bit above your pay grade, it’s still fascinating to watch the artistry involved in putting these babies together.

You can also see a handful of the entries on the bookstore’s website, and they’ve attracted some big names to their project. George Saunders is among the latest contributors. Here’s his take on people who play with puppets:

“Ventriloquist, a person inordinately fond of a puppet. This relation is often dysfunctional and may become abusive. This psychological condition may become so pronounced that the ‘ventriloquist’ will claim to be speaking for the puppet…”

See, isn’t this a lot more fun than your old dusty Britannica? Who knows, maybe one day they’ll give Wikipedia a run for their money. Enjoy entries from Jonathan Lethem, Jarvis Cocker, and more on the company’s website, here!

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