Walter Moers (and his excellent translator, John Brownjohn) love language, and that love permeates ever page, many times. Consequently, the book is a comic hymn to the power, beauty and fun of words, along with a more cautious love of books (which can provoke, or even be, evil). The books of the title are dreaming of being read, because that's what brings them to life.
Optimus Yarnspinner comes from a city of authors and travels to Bookholm, a city of bookshops, trying to trace the author of the most perfectly written piece of writing he has ever encountered. (The fact he is a dinosaur is oddly irrelevant.)
Bookholm turns out to be a dangerous place, especially once he enters the enormous laryrinthian catacombs under the city. The sheer variety of bizarre creatures and experiences is startling, unless you're already familiar with Moers' work.
A random collection of some of my favourite words and ideas: bookshops are so specialised they include one for novels with insect protagonists, one for dwarves with blond beards and another for half-finished books; the "primal note" is the first officially recognised note and the basis for all Zamonian music; the acoustic alchemy of trombophones can induce mass hallucination and hypnosis; booklings are little creatures each of whom memorises and takes on the character of one author (a little like Farenheit 451); even the street entertainment and food are book-themed (juggling with books and book-shaped pastries); dancing with shadows is an antidote to loneliness; boring books include Chimney-Sweeping for Advanced Students by Darko Lum, How to Comb a Chicken and An Encyclopedia of Wood Planing; hair raising books include Where the Mummy Sings by Omar ben Shokka, A Handful of Staring Eyes by the Weirdwater Sisters and Skeletons in the Reeds by Hallucinea Krewel; allegedly archaic words include spinking (speaking and stinking of garlic), ambivaliguous (when you can't make up your mind) and an abcedist is someone obsessed with putting things in alphabetical order (and not to be confused with a zyxedist).
But it's not all perfect. There is a clichéd moment when a baddie explains his evil plan (a la James Bond etc) and when Yarnspinner eventually finds the author, he (the author) speaks in a rather simple and banal way, which is strange.
Another problem is that much as I enjoyed it, this book feels too long. Captain Bluebear was a similar length, set in a similar world, but that story was more episodic, so it worked better. Nevertheless the language, wonderful line drawings and sheer humour and exhuberance still make it an enjoyable romp.