“S” and other magical books

I recently bought my 4th, what I like to call, magical book. In this short blogpost I’ll describe 4  books that are always on my desk, not necessarily because of their incredible story, because simply because each time I simply look at them, they transport me to the wondrous world of books.

It all started when I bought S, written by J.J. Abrams. This book has the look and feel of a frequently used library book, filled with notes, napkin drawing, postcards, etc. On the sidelines of each page, two people are having a conversation, with each colour denoting who is writing and when it was written (both persons lend the book in turn allowing them to have real conversations). What makes this book magical is all the small artefacts the two protagonists have put in the book which they need to unveil the mysteries they stumble upon while reading Ship Of Theseus. This book needs to be read several times to completely grasp & appreciate the full story, but even simply skimming through the book is a delight: there’s just so much to discover (check out the gallery at the end of this post with some examples)

Ever since I bought S, I have been on the lookout for books that have this same effect on me: a book that not only contains words to tell a story, but that also uses itself as part of the story. There’s one book that did this 40 years back called The Never-ending Story. To me, this book is still the ultimate children’s-book (Lampje comes second) because not only it tells a wondrous story, but it also uses the book itself to tell it (by using two colours, one denoting the “never-ending story” and one the adventures of Sebastiaan who is reading the book).

Recently, two new additions to my library have been added that, kind of, do what I’m looking for, but not as good as S and the Never-ending Story, namely: Bats of The Republic (by Zachary Thomas Dodson) and House of Leaves (by Mark Z. Danielewski).

Bats of the Republic has the same “multimedia” approach like S, using drawings, book excerpts, and written notes to unfold the story, but production-wise it’s the poor-man S-version: all the ‘artefacts’ are printed in the book itself, and not added as physical objects one can lose or put between the wrong pages.

House Of Leaves, a haunting horror story that towards the end loses itself in a bit in psychological mumbo-jumbo, on the other hand, is a bit different: it uses page style and layout (changing fonts, putting words in a specific layout, etc) to add an extra dimension to the story. Again, it’s fun to skimp through the pages and discover unique ways on how to use words on a page to convey story elements, but unfortunately, the story isn’t that captivating towards the final act.

Still, all four books are small treasures for me. They show that books can be more than simple “words on a page” to teleport the reader to the author’s fictional world.

If you can recommend more books like this, I’d greatly appreciate it!

1 thought on ““S” and other magical books

  1. I’ve read Ship of Theseus, and House of Leaves. HoL is my absolute favourite book. I’ve literally just started Bats of the Republic. Here’s a recommendation for you – The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. It’s a great book as well, you should check it out.

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