I only recently became aware of a most unique literary work, simply entitled S. When I had the good fortune to see an interview with its creator, J. J. Abrams, I knew immediately that this was a work that no self-respecting librarian/English teacher could ignore. I had to have this fascinating piece of literature.
I will attempt to describe this complex piece of writing, describe being a more apt verb than review at this point since I have not fully read the book. I have in fact barely begun, not yet having completed the first 50 pages that I usually allow myself before I determine whether or not it will be worth my time to continue reading to the end. I am quite certain I will finish S., but it's going to take some time, not because it is overly long (a bit over 400 pages), nor because the text itself is difficult, but because S. is an incredibly complicated work with more layers than good baklava.
First, there are two external layers. Opening this book felt like Christmas. Shrinkwrap encases a box like those used to hold book sets, this one of simple design with nothing more on the cover than a large stylized "S." and a seal featuring the names of the book's creator, J. J. Abrams, and the author, Doug Dorst. Such careful wrappings gave me a sense of caution as I carefully broke the seal and removed the contents, the actual book.
But wait. The book itself has a different title and author, Ship of Theseus by V. M. Straka. And this book doesn't at all appear to be new, quite the opposite. The publication information shows a copyright date of 1949. Ship of Theseus appears to be an old library book. Inside the front cover, stamped in red, are the words "BOOK FOR LOAN," and the title page is stamped with a high school library stamp. Inside the back cover is a series of stamped due dates, and there is even a library spine label complete with Dewey decimal number.
Upon flipping through the stained pages yellowed by age, I was immediately aware of the reason for the careful packaging, for tucked into these pages is another layer, more facets to this unique creation, a plethora of additional physical items that appear to have something to do with the story and are intended to remain in their precise locations--a telegram, a university newsletter, notes, photographs, postcards--even a drawing on a napkin. And in the back is some sort of decoder wheel. You can surely understand how the librarian in me was intrigued. And I haven't even gotten to the story layer yet. Or should I say story layers, for there are many of those as well.
Now there are varying attitudes about writing in books. As a librarian, of course I discouraged students from writing in library books, defiling an author's work with scribbles and notes. But personally, and with my own books, I frequently underline and annotate believing that it adds to the value. Fortunately, this personal belief allows the librarian in me to accept the multitude of annotations in Ship of Theseus. It is these annotations, written on almost every page, that add not just literary analysis of the book, but yet another story layer and two additional characters as well. First is Eric, a disgraced graduate student doing research and analysis of the author, V. M. Straka, and his works. The second is Jen, a college student who happens upon the book while working in the library, starts reading Eric's annotations, and then begins to respond with notes of her own. Before long something of a correspondence ensues in the margins of the book. The pair dissect and discuss the work, contemplate mysteries surrounding the author, and yes, divulge personal aspects of their lives as well. Like I said, I have only just begun this book, but I sense a relationship forming.
My mind is blown by the creative genius represented in this book. Just thinking about what it must take to put all these pieces together for publication is staggering. I have no doubt that I will love and respect S. on many levels. Conceived by filmmaker, J. J. Abrams (Lost, Mission Impossible, Star Trek, Fringe, to name a few) and written by award-winning novelist, Doug Dorst, who also happens to be a three-time Jeopardy! champion, S. is compelling. It will not be an easy read, but many of the great ones aren't.