S. is the literature project by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. Presented as an old library book, the story of S. unfolds within the novel Ship of Theseus. Two scholars, Jen and Eric, communicate in the margins. They converse through notes, newspaper clippings, and photographs stuffed between the pages. They soon find they share a passion for the mysterious author V.M. Straka and resolve to figure out his true identity together. However, as they read through his novel, they learn that other, more sinister forces are also working to figure out the identity of the novelist.
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Before we get to the story, I want to say that I love how this book looks, and I love how this book feels. It even smells good. S. is a work of tactile art. It begs to be looked at, to be felt. Search Instagram for the "#shipoftheseus" tag - you'll see what I mean. I secretly wish every book looked like this.
I do have to admit that I was afraid to take this book places, even in the slipcase, because I was convinced that all of the little postcards and letters would fall out. When I was reading, I'd often have to shove things back in place. I can definitely see how this book upsets librarians - the Cleveland library canceled their order of this book after complaints arose concerning the "ephemera" becoming misplaced.
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The margin notes are fun at first - I liked Jen and Eric's handwriting, the different pens they used, the way they related the prose to their lives, but I really underestimated just how long it would take to get through all of these. Every page had what felt like another page of notes attached. Whenever I'd come across a three-page-folded-up note from Jen or Eric, I'd sigh. Jen became a little flat as the novel went on. Every time she mentioned her ex-boyfriend or her boring problems with her parents I wanted to scream. I just couldn't feel sorry for her. I began to dread their banter and when I reached those rare pages that they hadn't scribbled upon, I was relieved.
So, the worry that I'd lose one of the inserts coupled with the added
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Don't get me wrong - this wasn't what bothered me about this book. I like long, difficult reads (sometimes). It's just that I constantly felt like I was missing something, no matter how hard I was working to keep it all straight. Maybe it's meant to be that way, that the confusion is part of the art, but I'm not used to feeling like I'm flailing while reading. I just felt worried.
The novel itself, Ship of Theseus, is enjoyable on its own. Perhaps its a bit heavy-handed with symbolism and ideology, but Jen and Eric need these clues to set their own search straight. I loved the interactions between S. and his mysterious, but familiar love interest. I was so excited about the subplot concerning the translator of Ship of Theseus and her own relationship to Straka. I am happy to say that it was sad enough for me. Very few things are.
Buy S. now in hardcover from Amazon.
Photos: Instagram and Mulholland Books