I recently read Jonathan Bender’s book, LEGO: A Love Story, released at the beginning of May. The book chronicles the personal story of an AFOL’s plunge from his Dark Ages into the LEGO subculture. The narrative delivered in 262 pages highlights the diversity of the hobby and the author’s own transformative experiences. All the while, the story takes place on a real life stage as Bender reconciles his image as an AFOL amidst forging a stronger relationship with his wife through building LEGO sets while trying to conceive a child and start a family.
As a LEGO fan, I am delighted to read the first book that describes the LEGO subculture. Jonathan Bender came out of his Dark Ages in 2008 when he received a LEGO set on his 30th birthday. Whether you doubt someone with two years of experience in the LEGO community can write a book about the hobby, you may be impressed by the author’s research and experiences in this short time.
The book chronologically depicts Bender’s experiences in LEGO. He has traveled to conventions, seen the collections of AFOLs and Bricklink sellers, visited LEGOLAND, and toured LEGO’s headquarters in Denmark and North America. Each experience is told subjectively and accompanied by the author’s own feelings and thoughts. The tone of Bender’s writing is very lighthearted and honest, and humor is present in each chapter. Although I have never heard of Jonathan Bender, I feel like I know him well after reading his book.
Depending on your LEGO background, the book has different things to offer. For those unfamiliar with LEGO beyond their childhood experiences playing with the toy, you may be inspired by the diversity of the hobby for adults and consider buying a LEGO set or two. For experienced LEGO fans, you’ll recognize many names mentioned in the book. At the same time, there’s still quite a few gems for you to discover and new things to learn.
The book is not without deficiencies. First, only a few ordinary photos are presented in the book. A black-and-white picture heads each chapter while twelve color photos are included in the middle of the book. Since LEGO is a visual medium, the lack of pictures may frustrate those who are unfamiliar with certain sets, elements, people, or places described. Second, while Bender captures many diverse aspects of the hobby, it is impossible to comprehensively cover every realm of the hobby. For instance, two major areas including the online communities and non-US fan communities are not mentioned in great detail. Lastly, certain individuals are given extensive coverage in the book, which highlights their opinions and personalities regardless of whether they represent those of the majority.
Overall, I recommend LEGO: A Love Story to all fans of the hobby and those who are new to it. It is the first book to give an answer on what it means to be an AFOL. At the same time, the narrative does not seek to impose a set of views. Rather, it presents the hobby without glorifying or criticizing it and lets you form your own conclusions.