uncertain cities

words and sequences of them by Rhett Davis

Filtering by Tag: Reading

Reading: Composition No. 1 by Marc Saporta

Apparently the first "book-in-a-box". Written in the early 60s, it's a bunch of looseleaf pages that can be read in any order. I like these sorts of things, and I'm writing and reading about them a lot at the moment. I think B.S. Johnson did this more successfully a few years later in The Unfortunates. The device that Johnson uses - the same start and end page - helps anchor us and frames the narrative. Saporta's work doesn't quite convey the same sense of meaning (it's also, to put it nicely, distasteful in parts). For me, this is an example of form that works against the reader, rather than with them. Does it need to be coherent? Maybe not. But the few discussions I've read about the work mention only its appearance and the experience of reading it. Few mention what Saporta might have actually been trying to say, and to me that says a lot.

Reading: S. by JJ Abrams & Doug Dorst

I've just started a PhD, you see, and I'm looking at books that use different mediums and forms to convey their fictions. I've just finished JJ Abrams & Doug Dorst's project, 'S.' The premise: two university students encounter each other in the margins of an old library book by a mysterious early 20th century author. The book we hold is this old library book that they have defaced with their scribblings, messages, postcards, and other clues and ephemera. The thing is: they have written on the book at different times, after certain events have happened. There are around five narratives to follow: the narrative of the book, the narrative of the writer and translator of the book, and the narratives of the two university students at the start, in the middle, and at the end of the journey. It's all very confusing, and it's a slow read. I found I had to change gears every page to work out where I was at in each story. Others have suggested reading each narrative at a time - i.e. the book text first, then the margin stories. Not sure - I think it's better to take it all in at once. It feels like it was designed that way. It's an amazing read, and being the sort of idiot I am, I loved coming across a napkin with a map on it, or a postcard, or some other artefact. It's beautifully produced. As with much of Abrams' work, I found myself unsure of where it landed by the end and what the point of any of it actually was. It was clever, but maybe trying to be cleverer than it was. It was a fun ride though. 

Reading: Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders)

I was a little worried that Saunders wouldn't make the transition to the longer form as well as he should. His short stories are little subversive humanist revolutions, and anything less than something extraordinary in his novel would have been disappointing. 

It is, happily, extraordinary. He inhabits characters like no one I know. He can make you feel something deeply for a character who features in only three lines. It is strange and bold and deeply human. Read this book.

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