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Ship of Theseus Hardcover – October 29, 2013
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"The best-looking book I've ever seen. . . . The book is so perfectly realized that it's easy to fall under its spell. . . . If you want to write a romantic mystery meta-novel in which two bibliophiles investigate the conspiracy around an enigmatic Eastern European author, you couldn't choose a better team." --Joshua Rothan, New Yorker
"Impressively smart, engaging . . . Filled with secrets and stories that are endlessly beguiling and inviting . . . Reading S., and trying to decode everything [was] an incredibly enjoyable, fun experience, as well as a particularly immersive one. . . . For all its mysteries and intrigues, this is a book about the value of books, and what they can offer us that other storytelling mediums cannot." --Wired
"S. is gorgeous, a masterpiece of verisimilitude. . . . The book's spiritual cousin is A.S. Byatt's Possession. . . . The brilliance of S. is less in its showy exterior than the intimate and ingeniously visual way it shows how others' words become pathways to our lives and relationships." --Washington Post
"Both as literature and as a physical object, S. is a profound and tremendous work of art. . . . Brilliantly conceived and perfectly executed, the book harkens back to a golden age of storytelling. . . . An audacious literary achievement that calls to mind Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, Chris Ware's Building Stories and even Charles Portis' Masters of Atlantis." --Miami Herald
"Reading S. is fun, and the book feels alive . . . Gloriously embroidered with marginalia and jammed with artifacts inserted between its pages . . . A celebration of the book as a physical thing." --Chicago Tribune
"Both as literature and as a physical object, S. is a profound and tremendous work of art."―The Miami Herald
About the Author
Emmy-Award-winning filmmaker J.J. Abrams has produced, directed, or written films and television shows including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Fringe, Lost, Alias, Felicity, Star Trek, Cloverfield, Mission: Impossible, and more.
Doug Dorst teaches writing at Texas State University. He is the author of the PEN/Hemingway-nominated novel Alive in Necropolis and the collection The Surf Guru. His work has appeared in McSweeney's, Ploughshares, Epoch and elsewhere. Dorst is also a three-time Jeopardy! champion.
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Top customer reviews
I'll admit: when I opened the book for the first time, the second thought that went through my mind (after "How frigging cool is this?") was, "How the heck am I gonna read this?"
So, for those of you asking that same question, let me tell you how I went about it:
As cool as all the inserts are, trying to keep them from falling out of the book as you're reading is a pain, so take them out and use post-it notes to mark what page they came from, then put them in an envelope that you can easily access.
Now, J&E's notes are not entirely in chronological order. You can generally go by the color of the ink between them to tell what phase of their story you're at.
First, there's Eric's pencil notes to himself about the actual book. Then, the convo between J&E begins when Jen picks up Eric's book and sees his notes and begins commenting on them in the margins. He sees this and writes back. Those early messages are Jen: Blue Ink - Eric: Black Ink
At some point after they go through the book a first time, they go through again. This time Jen: Orange Ink - Eric: Green Ink.
Then a third time Jen: Purple Ink - Eric: Red Ink
Finally, a fourth time (which seems to be after the denouement, in which they retrospectively discuss what has transpired). These are less frequent, and both Jen and Eric are in Black Ink.
***Read each chapter of the main text of SoT, ignoring all of Jen & Eric's notes. Upon finishing each chapter, you're going to want to go back and read only the blue/black notes and any referenced inserts. Then, move on to the next chapter. After you finish the whole book, go back and read only the orange/green notes and referenced inserts. Then purple/red, then black/black.***
However you choose to approach it, you're in for a treat. Even after finishing it, I'm still going back and looking for anything I may have missed. The journey was fantastic and the the destination was, well you'll see.
S. is really a story about 6 principal characters:
• S. – The main character in the novel "Ship of Theseus" who is suffering from amnesia. The novel follows S. as he desperately tries to figure out who he is and what his significance is to both the Ship of Theseus and the various ports at which it docks.
• V.M. Straka – an enigmatic author of the novel Ship of Theseus, the book which serves as stage to this mystery.
• The Translator (FXC) – a historian of Straka’s works who not only translates his novels into a variety of different languages but also pens commentary in the form of footnotes throughout Ship of Theseus.
• Eric – an exhausted theorist who believes the mystery of “Who is V.M. Straka” can be solved via subtext clues cleverly embedded throughout Ship of Theseus
• Jen – a student who stumbles upon Eric’s copy of Ship of Theseus and who’s penchant for researching the obscure and who's fresh perspective on the tale helps reveal that the initial question of “Who is V.M. Straka” is only the tip of a very, VERY large iceberg.
• YOU – You are the 3rd handler of this book. Jen and Eric have taken extensive notes in the margins and left dozens of pieces of ephemera tucked into the pages that serve as clues. You will use these clues to not only help solve the mystery of V.M. Straka, but also explore the mystery of why it is that you now have this book in your possession.
By reading S., you essentially become a character. In the same way that Eric and Jen attempt to solve a mystery about FXC and VM Straka, you must solve the mystery of Eric and Jen. Eric and Jen will often express frustrations over how they are not privy to the conversations and events that took place outside the pages of Ship of Theseus. This is not dissimilar to frustrations you, as the reader, will experience when Jen and Eric engage in meetings and ongoings outside of the book’s margins. It’s a brilliantly complex and maddeningly open-ended plot hurdle that you will regularly encounter throughout S.
The quantity of information that is thrown at you all at once is alarmingly difficult to comprehend. This is, of course, intentional. You may reach a page that has a postcard tucked into the binding, has 2 footnotes from FXC, has 11 margin notes from Eric and Jen (in 4 different ink colors), and, obviously, the continued Ship of Theseus novel. There is no good way to digest all of this, you simply have to read through it and absorb it as best you can before moving on. As you progress through the book, you pick up tricks for understanding when a note was written, who wrote it, and what the meaning is. Unfortunately, you’ll gain this perspective just in time to realize that – at some point – you’ll have to start the book all over again. However, while this is undeniably frustrating, it lends authenticity to the overarching plot of S., pulls you deeper into the story, and makes you feel like you really are solving a mystery. In this way, Eric and Jen become very real and you’ll feel like you can help them in the same way they are trying to help V.M. Straka.
S. is so much more than a book. It’s an experience. I continue to obsess over every detail, every clue, and every word contained in these pages. But, what’s funny about S., is that I wouldn’t recommend this book to most of my friends and family. Simply put, I just don’t think many people will “get it.” I don’t know how many people have the tolerance for ambiguity in the same way I do. I don’t know if other people will appreciate the complexity, the depth, or the details like I do. If The Da Vinci Code was the pizza of the literary world, then S. is the sushi. Most people probably won’t like it, but it will be passionately loved for by a few.
I could go on about this book for days. I would write more, but I have to go Google how to read a “rail-fence” cipher so I can continue solving this mystery :)
How dare J.J. Abrams team up with an author and effectively rob me of my free time. Now who will make hamburgers at McDonald's when all of my time is spent flipping back and forth in this book trying to discover every conspiracy.... I can't believe I even found time for this review.... I've gotta go... the book is calling me.