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The Unfortunates Hardcover – Box set, November 17, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions; Box edition (November 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811217434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811217439
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 5.3 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #139,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

An interesting, strange book—all the stranger...that it's nearly 40 years old and feels fresh as last Tuesday. (Corduroy Books, B.S. Johnson)

Work of great pathos...this book deserves a place in the history of memoir, and in anthologies about illness. (The New York Sun, Benjamin Lytal)

Review

Work of great pathos...this book deserves a place in the history of memoir, and in anthologies about illness.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 14, 1998
This book is in fact a box of loose pages that can be shuffled and read almost as you please.
The box cover is in the style of an early Pink Floyd light-show with globs of purple and blue, and contains no words apart from "a novel" and the author, title and publisher. The cover is the only clue that this is no ordinary novel. It is in fact what cyberdudes now rave about: a hyper-novel. Published in 1969, it was probably the first of its kind.
You open the box and find a half-inch thick stack of loose-leaf printed pages. Some pages are bound in four or six page signatures, other are loose single, or double- sided pages. The instructions inside the box lid tell you that these pages make up the 27 chapters of the novel. To start you must read the pages marked First, then the other 25 chapters in any order you like, and finally the chapter marked Last.
It's a story told as chapters that appear as flashbacks, or real events depending on where they fall in your random sequence.
Weird but it works, and without the Web!
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By G. Dawson on August 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
B.S. Johnson's The Unfortunates is a remarkable book. The novel is broken into 27 pamphlet-sized sections. Except for the first and last sections, the remaining 25 sections are intended to be read in random order.

The Unfortunates tells the story of a sportswriter who travels to a town to report on a soccer match only to discover he's been to the town several times before to visit an old school friend who has since died of cancer. Some of the separate sections of the book are recollections of the dead friend and other poignant memories of the past. Other sections describe the day of the soccer match. The switching back and forth from the present to the past happens at random, depending on the order in which the reader reads the sections. This randomness creates a disjointed reading experience that almost perfectly mimics how memories intrude into present consciousness. I doubt I've ever encountered a book structure or organizational scheme that has conveyed so much meaning.

In addition to the structure, the prose is a commentary on the mysterious workings of memory: ""I try to invest anything connected with him now with as much rightness, sanctity, almost, as I can, how the fact of his death influences every memory of everything connected with him." The overall mood is one of sadness, but Johnson inserts some levity by playing with language ("These men on their way to football, they are the same in any city, ... on their way to any match, their raincoats, their favours, in some cases, the real fan does not need to show his favour by favours, but by his fervour, and so on."). The mood is also lightened by the narrator's obvious enjoyment of day to day pleasures ("The cheese [rolls] had raw onion in them, anyway, a new taste, I enjoyed it, the crispness and the soft dough and clinging cheese. Ah.").

Without question, this is one of the most interesting books I've read in many years. I highly recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ed Griffith on June 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book has its chapters arranged in random order. The reader is encouraged to arrange the chapters in any order desired. My cat and I had fun spreading the chapters all over the living room and then reassembling them. In the end months after reading the collection, my wife says she remembers the book in chronological order. The author was an original thinker and it is a shame he died early.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steiner VINE VOICE on March 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This avant-garde novel became infamous in the sixties for being unbound--the text is simply a box, a box containing twenty seven unordered sections (barring the first and last). It is a fabulous, synchronistic recollection of Johnson's final time with his friend Tony, who is dying from cancer. Weaving magnificently disparate registers (journalism, stream-of-consciousness, memoir) Johnson paints a portrait that exudes the true depths of memory. This is a tremendous book that many will fail to appreciate on account of its unconventional structure. An odd and fascinating text that rings with tragedy.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Emily Lackey on April 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Twenty minutes ago, I had this review in the bag. I had taken thorough notes, had arranged them by topic, and had even highlighted passages to quote.

And then B. S. Johnson, the author of The Unfortunates, dropped this bomb on me in the second to last paragraph:

"The difficulty is to understand without generalization, to see each piece of received truth, or generalization, as true only if it is true for me, solipsism again, I come back to it again, and for no other reason. In general, generalization is to lie, to tell lies."

That really puts a cramp in any attempt at review, since to review is to generalize, don't you think? And, hey, isn't Johnson generalizing by saying that generalizations are lies?

So, give me a second. Let me take a few sips of my tea, look over my notes one more time, and take a deep breath. Allow me a minute to gather my thoughts and come back to this experimental and provocative text, because my head is beginning to hurt in that way it does after reading post-modernism.

Firstly, there is not enough room on this coffee shop table for the book, my computer, my notes, and the five highlighters it took to organize my thoughts into a rainbowed outline.

The act of reading this book is incredibly tactile. You hold the individual chapters in your hand to read, people passing stare at the thin pamphlets, the man next to me looks up every time I put one section to the left and pick up the next on the right. It's an attention grabber with its box cover, its 1-12 page sections, and its gift-like presentation. I opened it for the first time and felt the need to take pictures of it like I did ten years ago when I got my first iPod.

This book is beautiful.
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