S.

S. - Doug Dorst, J.J. Abrams 2.5 Stars
In these times of Kindles, Nooks, and iBooks, a novel like S. is a really exciting breath of fresh air. It's truly a love letter to physical books and a great effort in interactive reading and storytelling. The novel, written in a collaboration between film director J. J. Abrams and novelist Doug Dorst, is a story within a story within a story. The book contains "Ship of Theseus", the final novel of the critically popular but mysterious author V. M. Straka (who disappeared under unknown circumstances) with strange footnotes by Straka's frequent translator F. X. Caldeira. The book's margins include a second story, read as handwritten notes between two college students, Eric and Jen, as they try to interpret the novel and investigate who Straka and Caldeira are, while growing closer. Inserted throughout the book are physical pieces of other correspondence between , articles, essays, hand-drawn maps, and postcards.

The book is a true masterpiece in design and publishing. I can't even imagine how expensive it was to publish this, with handwritten notes in different colors and reproducing the inserts for each copy! Kudos to the publisher Mulholland Books, on a real feat! Here are a couple photos I found on the Interwebs, that gives an example of what to expect in the book:






Given how gorgeous the book is and how ingenious the concept is, I was terribly disappointed in how uninteresting the story was and how bored I was through the whole thing. The story in Ship of Theseus, of a man with amnesia, who has know idea why he has been kidnapped and sent on a dangerous journey, is...*YAWN*..... It has some interesting imagery but I found it pretty forgettable. The real story, found in the notes between Jen and Eric, is not only just as dull as the "Ship of Theseus" story, but the characters are also annoying. Eric was particularly irritating. Reading their back and forth notes got to be tiresome. I couldn't see for the life of me why Jen would be at all attracted to Eric. And once they meet, I couldn't understand why they would keep writing back and forth together in a library book. I couldn't get past that. Reading the book is a lot of work, which could turn into a fun project, but ultimately it felt like homework because I couldn't get into the characters and stories.


Speaking of that, I should detail what I found to be the best way to read the book. After some research and some experimenting, I found this to be the best way:

1) Remove the inserts and replace them with sticky notes describing them between the pages that they belong in. It was difficult trying to keep them from falling out while reading. Once you get to the page with the sticky note, you can get the corresponding insert so you have it while reading.

2) Read it chapter by chapter, including the Caldeira's footnotes. After reading a chapter, read the pencil notes (Eric's original notes to himself in the book) as well as the black and blue pen notes, (the initial back and forth correspondence between Eric and Jen). I sometimes read these while reading the chapter, if it looked like the note referred to something specific in the book's text.

*By doing this instead of reading the entire book before reading the first notes, the chapters were kept fresh in my head so I understood what Jen and Eric were talking about

3) After finishing the whole book that way, go back and read all of the notes written in Orange and Green ink, written when Jen and Eric go back through the novel again after their relationship deepens.

4) Go back again and read the Purple and Red text

5) Then read the final black and black text.

*Study the inserts as they're referred to.


As you can see it can be pretty involved. If you're reading this, don't let this turn you off too much. This book deserves to be given a chance, and you may be one of the many who really love it! If you read it, I'd love to know what you thought. One day I will revisit this again and maybe I'll enjoy it more. It's sad, because the book is a great concept, but I wish the design and concept was used to service a better story. I really wished I liked it. But it's a great example of awesome style over little substance.

*Sad Face*