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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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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.
Basically you read the book, then you read the notes, in whatever order makes sense to you. It tells a few simultaneous stories and it can be hard to track, so it's definitely not something for a plane or casual reading session.
The second level of story is about the author of this novel himself, V. M. Straka, a secretive anarchist who seems to have written this book as an allegory of a real conflict and assassination conspiracy of which he was a part. But who was Straka really? No one, it seems, ever truly met him or knows his true identity before he was (supposedly) killed. Ship of Theseus was published posthumously by a long-time editor, F. X. Caldeira, who writes an introduction and includes various footnotes throughout the book, footnotes which seem to contain coded messages in an attempt to contact Straka, if he's still alive.
The third level of story is set in the modern day. A grad student, Eric, has been working on his own theory of who Straka was and has written his notes in the book margins. An undergrad student, Jen, who works at the college library, discovers the book and writes responses to his margin notes, which starts a long conversation between the two as they trade the book back and forth with new notes. It's these margin notes that make the book especially interesting because, as the couple delve into different theories, their relationship develops and they begin to encounter some danger by people who don't want the truth to be known.
As you can see from the pics, this is no ordinary book, and it includes all kinds of inserts (photographs, letters, etc.) that the college students leave one another as they try to figure out the S./Straka mystery. There are various ways you can decide to read S. but to read it you will need a lot of patience. But it's well worth it.
If you like the "meta" idea of this book and are looking for something almost as creative, I would also recommend House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, a horror meta-novel.
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.