Best of lists for 2008 are already starting to pop up. Amazon recently posted its Top 100 of 2008. The surprise at the top of the list is The Northern Clemency, the Booker shortlisted novel by Philip Hensher. The year’s fiction phenomenon The Story of Edgar Sawtelle was fifth, and Millions favorites Neverland and 2666 land at 15 and 24 respectively.
You’ve probably noticed that Amazon, like many sites, employs an “auto-complete” feature on its search box. When you start typing in letters, it suggests things that begin with those letters. It’s probably safe to assume that it suggests the most frequently searched words, so, if we look at Amazon’s book section we can type in letters and discover, for each letter of the alphabet, the most popular searches on Amazon. Last time we did this, about a year and half ago, the results were fairly literary and 18 months before that, vampires reigned. This time around, Fifty Shades has ushered in an era of erotic-inflected popular fiction, and diet books and YA lit figure prominently as well. You might consider this exercise, the ABCs of Amazon, to be a peek into the reading habits of America and, like it or not, a primer for what’s popular in the world of books:
Bared to You (erotic fiction by Sylvia Day)
Cloud Atlas (by David Mitchell thanks to the upcoming feature film)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (the very popular children’s series by Jeff Kinney)
Eat to Live (a diet book)
Fifty Shades of Grey (The erotica that launched a publishing trend)
Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster)
Hunger Games (Replacing “Harry Potter” as the top “H” search in YA lit)
ISBN number search (funny because ISBNs work in the search box)
Kindle (no surprise here)
No Easy Day (The book about the bin Laden raid)
Organic Chemistry (A textbook search)
Psychology (More textbooks)
Quiet (a book about introverts by Susan Cain)
The Hunger Games
Unbroken (by Laura Hillenbrand)
Wheat Belly (a diet book)
Zoo by James Patterson
(Amazon has been known to personalize and regularly adjust its results, so your Amazon alphabet may vary.)
Back in January, I took a look at some of the “most anticipated” books of the year. Well, those books are old news now, but there are some great-looking books on the way. September and October in particular are looking pretty stacked. Please share any relevant links or books I may have missed.July:Gallatin Canyon by Thomas McGuane (New Yorker interview)Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle (Boyle’s blog)The Driftless Area by Tom Drury (Drury’s story “Path Lights“)The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk (a new translation, thanks Bud)America’s Report Card by John McNally (Thanks Dan)The Judas Field by Howard Bahr (Thanks J.D.)August:Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (list of stories)Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell (Thanks Dan)Brief Encounters with Che Guevara by Ben Fountain (thanks Stephan)September:Moral Disorder by Margaret AtwoodThe Dissident by Nell Freudenberger (Her first novel; following up her collection, Lucky Girls)All Aunt Hagar’s Children by Edward P. Jones (very excited about this one – the title story appeared in the New Yorker.)A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon (a first look at the book)The Road by Cormac Mccarthy (a first look)After This by Alice McDermott (PW Review [scroll down])Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (thanks Dan)Smonk by Tom Franklin (thanks Dan)Dead in Desemboque by Eddy Arellano (Thanks Laurie)October:One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (sequel to Case Histories)What is the What by Dave Eggers (based on a true story, excerpted in The Believer – Part 1, 2, 3)Lay of the Land by Richard Ford (The third Frank Bascombe novel – I wrote about it last year.)Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier (A big enough deal that the announcement of a publication date came as an Entertainment Weekly exclusive.)Restless by William Boyd (A World War II novel)The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi JulavitsGolem Song by Marc Estrin (thanks Dan)The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke (Thanks Laurie)November:The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro (The title story was in the New Yorker)Soon the Rest Will Fall by Peter Plate (Thanks Laurie)The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross (Thanks Laurie)December:Untitled Thomas Pynchon novel (as confirmed by Ed.)January 2007:Zoli by Colum McCannFlora Segunda by Ysabeau Wilce (Thanks Laurie)February 2007:Knots by Nuruddin Farah (based on “Farah’s own recent efforts to reclaim his family’s property in Mogadishu, and his experiences trying to negotiate peace among the city’s warlords.”)May 2007:The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (Posts about the book: 1, 2, 3, 4)Addenda: Books suggested in the comments are being added above.
We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. For more April titles, check out the Great First-Half 2017 Preview, and let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments.
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout: “As I was writing My Name Is Lucy Barton,” said Strout, the New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner, of her 2016 novel, “it came to me that all the characters Lucy and her mother talked about had their own stories.” Anything is Possible was written in tandem to Lucy Barton. For Strout’s many devoted readers, this novel promises to expand on and add depth to the story, while exploring themes for love, loss, and hope in a work that, “recalls Olive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity.” (Claire)
Marlena by Julie Buntin: I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of Buntin’s remarkable debut novel, about an intense friendship between two young women in rural Michigan, and I agree with Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter, who calls it “lacerating.” Aside from a riveting story and nuanced characters, Buntin has also delivered an important story about addiction and poverty in middle America. In its starred review, Booklist called it “Ferrante-esque.” (Edan)
American War by Omar El Akkad: El Akkad is an award-winning Canadian journalist, whose reporting has ranged from the war in Afghanistan to the protests in Ferguson, Mo. His brilliant and supremely disquieting debut novel opens in 2074, at the outbreak of the Second American Civil War, and follows a young Louisiana girl, Sarat Chestnut, as time and conflict gradually transform her from a child into a weapon. (Emily)
The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron: Our own Cameron returns with a new novel about two women separated by, oh, only 40,000 years: Girl, the eldest daughter in the last family of Neanderthals, and present-day archeologist Rosamund Gale, who is excavating Neanderthal ruins while pregnant. How these two stories echo and resonate with one another will be just one of its delights. Such an ingenious premise could only come from the writer who brought us The Bear, which O, The Oprah Magazine deemed “a tender, terrifying, poignant ride” and which People gave 4 stars, saying “it could do for camping what Jaws did for swimming.” (Edan)
No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts: A novel about a black family in North Carolina dealing with economic decline, outsourcing, and the legacy of Jim Crow. Watts’s debut has been pitched as a contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, but Ron Charles writes in the The Washington Post that Watts hasn’t done merely another reboot; she has written a “sonorous, complex novel that’s entirely her own.” (Lydia)
A Little More Human by Fiona Maazel: A new novel from the author of Woke Up Lonely, Maazel’s latest is a superhero story about a mild-mannered mind-reader slash nursing assistant from Staten Island dealing with personal and professional strife. It sounds as though Maazel has rifled deftly through genres to create something in a class entirely by itself. (Lydia)
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer: A much-awaited new offering from the author of the breakout hit Southern Reach trilogy (the first volume of which will be a movie later this year). The titular Borne is a small, living “green lump” adopted by a lonely young woman living in a post-apocalyptic city plagued by a roving bear and hazardous waste. Colson Whitehead calls Borne “a thorough marvel.” (Lydia)
The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch: In a new kind of world, we need a new kind of hero and a reimagined Joan of Arc from Yuknavitch seems like just the thing. Following her widely lauded The Small Backs of Children, this novel takes place in the near future after world wars have turned the Earth into a war zone. Those surviving are sexless, hairless, pale-white creatures who write stories on their skin, but a group of rebels rally behind a cult leader named Jean de Men. Roxane Gay calls it, “a searing condemnation, and fiercely imaginative retelling.” (Claire)
The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic by Nick Joaquin: The first U.S. appearance of one of the Philippines’ most distinguished writers, pegged to the centenary of his birth. Joaquin, who died in 2004, wrote in English and set much of his work — which included two novels and several collections of short stories in addition to essays, plays, and criticism — in post-WWII Manila, exploring themes of colonialism and liberation, Catholicism and folklore. An exciting introduction for uninitiated American readers into Joaquin’s oeuvre. (Lydia)
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah: This debut collection of short stories, which takes its name from a story published in Catapult in 2015 to wide acclaim — one that seamlessly blends magical realism and a kind of sci-fi, resulting in a one-of-a-kind dystopia — announces the arrival of a brilliant new talent. Don’t take our word for it: one story, “Who Will Greet You at Home,” appeared in The New Yorker and was a National Magazine Award finalist, and others are already drawing high praise from across the publishing community. These stories explore the ties that bind us together, but in magical, even subversive forms. (Kaulie)
Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba: The first offering from a new, Oakland-based, translation-focused nonprofit publisher Transit Press Books, this is the fourth of Spanish novelist Barba’s books to appear in English. The novel relates the story of a new girl in an orphanage, and the sinister game she invents with her co-residents. The novel is translated by Lisa Dillman, with an afterword by Edmund White. In a starred review Kirkus warns, “Barba’s girls, and their game, will linger in the minds of his readers.” (Lydia)
1. I make too many copies.
2. When using even the best machines, including those newly serviced and primed, a double-sided job is a risk. I say prayers while the sheets are sucked through the feeder. Hail Mary, full of grace (the sheets disappear), the Lord is with thee (the originals reappear on the other side of the feeder, safe), blessed art thou among women (the copies begin to move through the machine’s hidden innards), and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus (the stapler engages), holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now (the first packet exits, secure), and at the hour of our death (more packets follow, until the first tray is out of paper, and the machine shifts, slowly, to the second tray), Amen.
3. I am a high school English teacher. I give my students books, but they can’t mark-up those bound pages. Yellow and pink Post-its flap from the sides, but after they finish an essay on Beloved, the notes are torn out, stacked, and tossed.
4. Except for that one student who arranged her notes for The Sun Also Rises so that her marks formed Ernest Hemingway’s face.
5. Which is a copy, itself.
6. I like the word “photocopy,” but not as much as the word “mimeograph.”
7. I have one prep period a day, which means 40 minutes to pause, drink water, but mostly make copies. I hog the machine. I teach AP literature and two levels of creative writing.
8. There are a lot of words worth sharing. Photocopies are my contribution to this literary communion.
9. We used to enter a personal code so that the district could track our copies. Teachers would leech off those who did not log-out. I will neither admit nor deny my own participation.
10. I pull a chair to the front of my classroom. Students open the door, and each day there are fresh copies piled, waiting to be plucked. They are an announcement: it is time for work.
11. “Do you have an extra copy of __________? I lost mine.” Yes. But I always keep two copies for my files. Siblings to be saved.
12. I tell my AP literature students that I might be the last English teacher they will ever have. If they score well on the exam, they will gain college credit and never again read about the “inscrutable house” of Elizabeth Bishop.
13. Which means I am not going down without a fight.
14. Or, without making copies.
15. One of my first summer jobs was destroying photocopies of courthouse records that had become computerized. I fed the sheets into an industrial shredder that chomped staples and clips as easily as paper.
16. Teachers often ask if they can put-in the next job, creating a chain of words that wheel through the overworked machine. It can handle that play in the morning, when tired students trudge to first period and tired teachers down coffee and tired bus drivers chat in the lobby. But come noon, that litany of literature slogs the machine, and it clunks to a stop.
17. Breaths are held.
18. The status screen lights up, red scattered among the machine’s skeleton. Someone takes a knee, opens the door, and performs mechanical surgery.
19. Recent copies: “Is it O.K. to Be a Luddite?” by Thomas Pynchon (essay). “Antarctica” by James Hoch (poem). “The Visit” by Amanda Davis (story). “No One’s a Mystery” (pdf) by Elizabeth Tallent (story). “The Way It Has to Be” by Breece Pancake (story). “Stained Glass” by Charles Baxter (story). “Whaling out West” by Charles D’Ambrosio (essay). “Jacob and His Friends Work Out the Difference Between Post and Modern” by Jacob Paul (essay). “The Dinner” by Clarice Lispector (story). “Fiat Lux” by Traci Brimhall (poem). “Cameo” by Natasha Trethewey (poem).
20. Teachers from other departments drift to our building, their eyes wide, originals leaning from their hands. They want to use our machine. They want to know if we have staples.
21. Students expect packets to be stapled.
22. Students shouldn’t expect anything. They are cared for in high school, but that care will end, soon. I ease them off the care, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be very caring.
23. My desks are in rows. 5 copies of 5. Like formal verse, I find that the greatest freedom and eccentricity occurs within structure.
24. Other than creative works culled from books or PDFs, my handouts are homegrown, peppered with metafictive asides and references. Those phrases are buried within contextual information about William Faulkner’s Mississippi or sample annotations for “Out, Out” by Robert Frost. A smirk means they found it. A blank stare means they didn’t read, or they found it and are not amused.
25. Whether I mean to or not, my students copy my style of reading.
26. How could they not? They share the room with me for 180 days, 40 minutes a day.
27. But they are never the same as me. Each copy has a smudge, a misplaced staple, a loss of toner, the gain of individuality.
28. Copies for the next week are piled along a cabinet or tucked into plastic shelves.
29. Teaching is all about planning, along with the awareness that plans should often defer to realities. If I meant to talk about how Hemingway hid the subject of the conversation in “Hills Like White Elephants,” but if my students are speaking with passion and insight about the rhythm of the couple’s speech, do I stop them?
30. Photocopying is often a subversive act. I do not mean the breaking of copyright. Fair use is fair. I mean that before quick clicks from smartphone cameras, photocopies were ways of lifting pages from reference libraries and locked offices and spreading them into the outside world.
31. So every photocopy is a manipulation, a copy of a copy.
32. Of course I copy Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”
33. “One might subsume the eliminated element in the term ‘aura’ and go on to say: that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. This is a symptomatic process whose significance points beyond the realm of art. One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced.”
34. Literature dies when it becomes the means toward the ends of absent politicians and distant state departments of educations. The role of the high school English teacher is also not to create a legion of English majors — God help us — but rather to pause a student’s hectic and harried day and get them thinking about words.
35. Their own words, and the words of others.
36. To get them thinking about auras.
37. Because one argument for literature that should find supporters in both conservative and progressive traditions is that the arrangement of beautiful words into beautiful shapes has intrinsic worth, and that artistic beauty can do something to the soul.
38. Something that might not be catalogued on a rubric, or on a standardized exam.
39. Both of which, ultimately, exit a copy machine and enter less-than-willing hands.
“I liked George. We got along. George was an interesting man. We spent time together.”
“What did you do with the material he copied?”
“It was worthless.”
“A lot of waxy paper.” from Players by Don DeLillo.
41. I have likely copied more words by or about DeLillo than any other single writer.
42. “If anyone is guilty of turning modern Americans into Xerox copies, it is Don DeLillo.” — Bruce Bawer.
43. I disagree with Bawer, but some of my students might agree with him. What I love about photocopies is that they flatten the spines of books; they wrestle authority from the author for a moment, and give the students a chance to participate.
44. I want them to push back against Bawer and DeLillo. At first, they are knocked down; they swing wildly, without reason. But the firmer their critical sense is cultivated, the sooner they become readers who can mark-up their photocopies with annotations that are not merely “personification” but “Gary Harkness needs Taft Robinson, but Robinson does not need Gary; this scene in the dorm room reveals it.” They become readers who commune with literature.
45. I have saved photocopies from college. Handouts that somehow retain the blue-purple tinge of a typewriter.
46. My daughters are identical twins. They have been called “multiples.”
47. “Identical twins are not exactly alike. They begin in the womb, at conception, with a single egg and sperm. Twins are made after the egg is fertilized and splits. Similarity is a result of how long the egg takes to divide. The longer it takes for the egg to split, the more alike a set of twins will look. We must have split early. My feet and nose were larger than Cara’s. As adults she usually outweighed me by fifteen pounds. Identical twins share the same DNA but do not have identical DNA. The egg splits into two halves to form identical twins, but the DNA does not divide equally between the two cells. We were like an apple sliced in half: two halves of the same fruit, one with more seeds, one with fewer.” from Her by Christa Parravani.
48. I read Christa’s memoir while in manuscript, and wrote notes after notes on those workshop copies. I hoped that those copies became a book, and they did.
49. My wife and I are always asked how we tell our twin daughters apart. There is a tension in that question that perhaps only an English teacher would worry about: why do we often begin with a desire to separate? My girls are not copies, but they are connected. I see how they look at each other. They share something.
50. I hold the fresh photocopies against my shirt, and they are warm like my daughters’ pajamas from the dryer. Each copy is made with the hope that words will reach hands and eyes that will consider them, if only for the long moments of class. That is enough.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
A little over three years ago, in a fit of apparent insanity, a New York-based independent press bought a sizeable chunk of the short-story collection I’d been working on and published it as a stand-alone volume. I remain proud of the book, A Field Guide to the North American Family, which was reissued last month in paperback. A lot has changed since the end of 2007, though, and the new edition has me thinking again about a couple of misapprehensions I was laboring under at the time of its writing. The first was that inserting an “illustrated fiction” into an otherwise un-illustrated cycle of stories was just the thing to ignite the bidding war that would make me a millionaire. (Thanks a lot, W.G. Sebald!) The more important, related misapprehension, though, has to do with “the future of the book.”
In college, I had been an extracurricular binge-reader of 1960s and ’70s “experimental” literature, in secret rebellion against the masterpieces-only Atkins diet that comprised my coursework. Even in my mid-twenties, I was convinced that the novel of the future would incorporate as much Cortazar and Cather, as much Willie Masters as Wilhelm Meister. History had different ideas, as usual. Two weeks after my exuberantly book-y book came out – replete with color photography and typographic mayhem – Amazon launched the first Kindle, which sold out in less than a day. The book of the future, it turned out, had a built-in battery. And what I’d just published would never work on it.
Then again, as my therapist suggests (though my accountant begs to differ) maybe this accidental Kindle-proofing is a blessing in disguise. My nostalgia for print, after all, is something like Balzac‘s for the wooden printing press in Lost Illusions:
At the time when this story opens, the Stanhope press and the ink-distributing roller had not yet come into use in small provincial printing-houses…. [Now] the rapid spread of machine presses has swept away all this obsolete gear to which, for all its imperfections, we owe the beautiful books printed by Elzevir, Plantin, Aldus Didot, and the rest…
In the novel that follows, Balzac links speedier and more efficient printing technology, and the larger cultural pressures it stands for, to the artistic failures of his would-be hero, the “provincial” Lucien Chardon. Unable to withstand the allure of a fast franc, Lucien becomes in Paris whatever is French for “sellout.” (Not to mention – horrors – a critic!) But I would become no Lucien Chardon – not with Field Guide, anyway. To “sell out,” you first have to sell, and in committing to the ideal of the “beautiful” book, I had pretty much guaranteed that this particular project would remain unsullied by commerce.
Now, in honor of the future that never was, the durable pigments of the almost obsolete, I offer you the following trade secrets to fellow writers. The availability for the Kindle of some of the titles mentioned below points to the difficulty of the task; nonetheless, here are:
Seven Ways to Kindle-proof Your Book
Step 1. Use Color
The iPad and Barnes & Noble’s NookColor have already gone some way toward countering this strategy, and Amazon is rumored to have plans to follow suit with a full color, full-functionality tablet. As of this writing, however, the top-selling eReader, the Kindle, remains a black-and-white only affair. I suggest, then, that all of you aspiring Kindle-proofers out there familiarize yourselves with the color palette on your word-processors. You may, as Mark Z. Danielewski does in House of Leaves, choose to assign a single word its own color, like the sodapop in the old Cherry 7-Up commercials. (Isn’t it cool…in pink?) Or you may opt for a subtler approach, à la Richard Flanagan. In Gould’s Book of Fish, Flanagan uses a different color for each chapter, to represent the different dyes employed by his ichthycidal narrator. Still not persuaded? I once heard that Faulkner planned to use different-colored type to distinguish the different voices in As I Lay Dying. If it’s good enough for a Nobelist, isn’t it good enough for you?
Step 2. Illustrate, Illustrate, Illustrate
In an essay published in The New Yorker a couple years back, Nicholson Baker complained that “photographs, charts, diagrams, foreign characters, and tables don’t fare so well on the little gray screen” of the Kindle. Of course, as with Step 1, the iPad complicates things, and glossy (“glossy”?) magazine readers are apparently “flocking” to the NookColor. (Constant vigilance is the price of Kindle-proofing!) But it’s worth pointing out that, where words on a page are an abstraction of an abstraction, illustrations are only one representative step away from the visual world. And so the venerable tradition of the illuminated manuscript still seems to favor, at this stage of the game, the codex book. No wonder that, as writers grow anxious about the fate of print, we’re seeing an uptick in illustrated fiction; it’s the literary equivalent of abstract painting’s retort to photography. (This is to say nothing of graphic novels.) Lavishing attention on hand-made illustrations – as in Joe Meno‘s Demons in the Spring – or incorporating photographs, like Rod Sweet and Tim Williams‘ Instructions for the Apocalypse or Leanne Shapton‘s Important Artifacts, is a great way to add an extra exclamation point to your literary pooh-poohing of the eReader.
Step 3. Play With Text, Typeface, and White Space
eReaders currently use two approaches to rendering text. One is quasi-photographic, but the Kindle’s remains the more battery-efficient method of imposing a standard typeface. This makes the effects of a textually playful book like Danielewski’s House of Leaves or Karen Tei Yamashita‘s I Hotel or William H. Gass‘ The Tunnel – difficult to render on a Kindle. If you want to up the degree of difficulty, you can try combining this with step 1, following Gass’ lead in Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife, wherein text in a range of typefaces and sizes curves and distends and floats around and behind the illustrations. And then there’s white space. Mallarmé may have got there first, but Blake Butler‘s There is No Year is moving the ball forward. It’s available for Kindle, but only the good Lord and Jeff Bezos know how it reads there. (I don’t think I need to point out the irony of the Amazon customer review for A Visit from the Goon Squad that finds “the ‘powerpoint’ chapter…extremely difficult to read on the Kindle.”)
Step 4. Run With Scissors
The opening story of John Barth‘s Lost in the Funhouse, famously invites readers to take scissors to it and create a Mobius strip. This cut-up aesthetic is more literal in Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Tree of Codes, which slices and dices the pages of Bruno Schulz‘s Street of Crocodiles to create pages like lace. It’s a piece of found prose-poetry whose sentences change as you turn the page. Except on the Kindle, where it doesn’t – and couldn’t – exist.
Step 5. Go Aleatory
Narrative fiction, as Vladimir Propp would tell you, need not proceed in a straight line. Presumably, the HopScotching of Cortazar’s Rayuela would be easy enough to approximate via hyperlink on a Kindle, as might something structured like Raymond Queneau‘s “A Story As You Like It.” But what about a story where the order of the pieces genuinely doesn’t matter. Or one where an Oulippan element of chance is built in? A narrative like Coover’s “deck of cards” story from A Child Again, say. Or B.S. Johnson‘s The Unfortunates, which consists of a beginning, an ending, and 25 middle chapters to be shuffled and read at random. Speaking of The Unfortunates…
Step 6. Put It In A Box
Gass at one point imagined reinforcing the random, “pile of pages” aspect of The Tunnel by printing it loose-leaf and selling it in a box. It can’t be any coincidence that, in the age of the Kindle, the book as boxed set has been making a comeback. New Directions, in addition to The Unfortunates, has given us the slipcovered (and thus far unKindled) Microscripts of Robert Walser. McSweeney’s, another box-loving press, has delivered any number of issues of the Quarterly, not to mention One Hundred and Forty Five Stories in boxed form. And in 2008, Hotel St. George Press published Ben Greenman‘s archetypally box-intensive Correspondences, albeit in a limited edition.
Step 7. Pile on the End Matter
This strategy exploits not so much a technical weakness of the Kindle as a practical one. My theory is that, because the number of pages remaining in a book aren’t palpable on a digital device, readers are less likely to go digging around in appendices, acknowledgments, and so forth. The endnotes function on the Kindle apparently makes it pretty easy to jump from the main text to the famous fine print of Infinite Jest. But with other kinds of end matter, aren’t you likely to hit “The End” and think: I’m done? Writers who sneak interesting and potentially meaningful information into the back of the book are thus a step closer to Kindle-proofing than the rest of us. Here I’m thinking specifically of William T. Vollmann, whose resolutely booktacular books often contain dozens, even hundreds of pages of end matter (interesting in direct proportion to the interest of the main text.) Or Walter Benjamin‘s Arcades Project. But I was struck, reading Georges Perec‘s Life A User’s Manual this spring, by the way the various indexes and appendices offered a variety of possible reformattings of the main text.
Bonus List: 10 Pretty Damn Kindle-Proof (at least, as of this writing) Books:
1. Nox, by Anne Carson (Rules Exploited: 1, 2, 3, 6): In many ways, this boxed version of a mourning journal Carson made after the death of her brother is the paragon of the Kindle-proof book: a book built out of books, and alert to its own status as an object.
2. The Original of Laura, by Vladimir Nabokov (Steps Taken: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5): The chief attraction of this slender posthumous work is its Chip Kidd design, which invites readers to cut out facsimiles of the notecards Nabokov composed on and make their own book…though, given the $35 cover price, I can’t imagine too many readers took Kidd up on it.
3. A Field Guide to the North American Family, by yours truly (1, 2, 3, 5): This is probably the only excuse I’ll ever have to insert my name in a list between Nabokov’s and Jonathan Safran Foer’s. There. I’ve done it.
4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer (1, 2, 3): A Kindle version of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close actually exists, but, even if Amazon were to insert an animation, there is just no way to achieve in e-form the flip-book effect on which this novel’s conclusion rises…and falls.
5. The Principles of Uncertainty, by Maira Kalman (1, 2): Okay, this is actually pretty easy to recreate on an iPad. But who would want to read this gorgeous thing on a screen?
6. Dictionary of the Khazars, by Milorad Pavic (5): The chief Kindle-resistant feature of Dictionary of the Khazars is that it is actually two books: a “male version” and a (slightly different) “female version,” bound back to back. You move from one to the other by flipping the book over and starting from the other end. Kindle that, Amazon!
7. Only Revolutions, by Mark Z. Danielewski (1, 3, 5): Unlike House of Leaves, the National-Book-Award-nominated Only Revolutions is too insanely Kindle-proof to actually be a good book. I found its main text – which takes the flip & read logic of Pavic a step further – to be a hackneyed pastiche of Finnegans Wake. But you can’t blame a guy for trying.
8. One Hundred Thousand Million Poems, by Raymond Queneau (4, 5): This echt-Oulippan “poetry machine” is a set of 10 sonnets, bound to a spine, but with incisions between the lines that extend out to the edge of the page. Readers can manipulate the pages to form and reform sonnets. Mathematically, there are 1,000,000,000,000,000 possible variations. In theory, an eBook equivalent of this would work beatifully (you’d just have to build in a “shuffle” function) – though by equivalence rather than reproduction.
9. Rising Up and Rising Down (the unabridged version), by William T. Vollmann (2, 3, 5, 7): In theory, this should be the perfect eBook candidate, in the sense that no one wants to lug the damn thing on the subway. It is, in a sense, almost all appendix. I’d bet dollars to donuts, though, that, via the logic sketched in point 7 above, no one would ever get through a digital edition. Vollmann’s detractors would argue that’s a good thing. I’m not so sure…
10. Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak (1, 3): The brilliance of Where the Wild Things Are, as a children’s librarian once pointed out to me, is not just the illustrations, but the way they gradually expand to fill the page spreads (what’s called a full-bleed)…and then recede again into white space. It enacts for children the dialectic of wildness and safety that is the book’s explicit subject, and has, this librarian insisted, a deeply therapeutic effect. Wild Things, that is, uses its book-ness beautifully. You could reproduce this on a screen…but unless the aspect ratio was 2:1, it would have to be in thumbnail form. Perhaps the solution, as Reif Larsen has suggested, is to get away from the idea of reproduction altogether. Rather than deluding ourselves that the eBook is a book, we should think carefully about the effects each can achieve that the other can’t, and then work to find equivalents between them. And lo and behold, a fantastically inventive app of Larsen’s The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet (Steps Taken: 2, 3) is now available for the iPad…perhaps pointing the way to yet another future of the book.