Tuesday, December 29, 2015

S., by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

I was looking for something to read around the house and found a book my wife bought, but did not read.  I guess that's not free by any stretch of the imagination.  It's also not speculative fiction.  The main credited author, J. J. Abrams, is a speculative fiction director so that's as close as this comes to being SF.  And while I think libraries have probably purchased this book, part of its "thing" is that it has a lot of loose inserts.  Don't think it would survive one reading in a public library. Not even available in Kindle form--though I think you could almost pull it off.

There is a consistent way in which this book is not what it seems.  Let's start with a "meta" element--the authorship.  J. J. Abrams "conceived" S., but Doug Dorst seems to have done most of the writing.  It's a very elaborate project, including a website (eotvoswheel.com) with more "source" material. The presentation of the book itself is a tribute to the printed volume (see above).  The real story is in the margins, handwritten.  Physically it's an impressive product.

So how is it as a reading experience?  Well, interesting--the setup here is that you have a volume stolen from a school library and heavily annotated by a devotee of the author.  This author supposedly has a set of literary scholars interested in him, as his life was quite mysterious.  There's an in-joke here, in that the book itself is a kind of turgid adventure/philosophy novel--critics would study it but it's not popular.  And you get the idea that these scholars were maybe wasting their energy.  But the story in the margins is quite lively--a love story with intrigue and implied danger.

The format makes the book a very long read. You have the main story, which you really can't just skip since the annotators are using passages to make points.  And the margin story is nonlinear, which makes one slow down and sometimes reread.  I was intrigued for awhile and stayed with it, but found myself getting tired about halfway through.

In the end, it's an OK story wrapped around a bad novel.  The badness of the novel is intentional, the OKness of the story perhaps not as much.  Really it's about the production, an homage to print.  This is how we know the bound volume will never go away, even for simpler books. 

In the end, I give this four stars.  Three for the book, and another one for the production.  It's a beautiful thing.  Some books are worth owning, even for a biblio scrounge like me.   

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