Posts Tagged ‘Building Stories’

The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski – review

December 16, 2012

This review is not going to do The Fifty Year Sword justice in many ways, because I just don’t have the time to tear it apart the way I want, to map it out, etc. because it’s a library book, it’s new so I can’t review it, and it is due tomorrow. And this is something that I think is made to be torn apart, almost on a literal level of pulling the book from its cover and pulling the thing apart to look at the binding and everything. That’s with a pretty barebone story that seems pretty straight forward and short, if taken on a purely “here’s the story” sort of level.

Off and on for the past several months I have brought up Building Stories and its thinginess. Whenever you talk to someone who loves books, the actual physical things, it always come down to the tactile experience of the object, and Building Stories goes about this with this vast array of forms and styles. Danielewski has approached the idea of thinginess from somewhat of a different angle. House of Leaves was a textual feast. Danielewski toys with text, twisting and turning it, physically shaping  the formatting  to tell as much of the story as the words themselves. With The Fifty Year Sword Danielewski brings the same textual tricks to the table, and he plays around some more with quotation marks. In fact, the quote marks are really significant to this story, because it is told through a series of quotes, where it’s like you are sitting at a table at a diner and five people are all telling a story to you and they continually bounce off of each other, taking up the thread of narrative for a moment or two before someone else jumps in and does their and the entire novel is told in this round robin sort of way.

What lets you know when a different person takes up the narrative is the color of the quotation marks. Something that I really wish I had the time to do is to go through and map out what each colored quote mark says throughout the novel, and see if there is a story being told by each one, and how exactly each one “speaks.” To make things more complicated there are moments where one color quote seems to be quoting another color quote. Oh, and did I mention that occasionally there are larger question marks that appear to be stitched? And, if I had better eyes, I wonder if the smaller quotes are also stitched. I think there is a good chance that they are, and that’s something else that stands out in a big way when you start looking through the text.

The photos in the book appear to be rather high quality. I think the quotes are pictures of actual stitched quotation marks. With the larger quotes you can see the individual threads. Throughout the book are a series of stitched symbols or just stitched art work that sort of defies explanation other than to say that they are metaphorical takes on places being talked about in the text. And with the photos of the stitches, you can see the threads but you can also see the areas in the paper or material that is exploded up where the need punched through it. in areas where paper is folded, you can see all of the little creases and dents and shadows.  in pictures where cardboard has been ripped, you can see the layers of the cardboard where the rip wasn’t clean.

There are also parts where the stitching looks drawn. Where they drew a line and then just plopped down a heavy blot of color every so many millimeters to signify those dots, and it could open up a whole discussion about the significance of that, and authenticity and how that relates to the text.

And there are some physical things to the book that stands out. The orange cover has all of these tiny holes punched into it. Unfortunately, the dust jacket is taped on, so I can’t really get a good luck underneath of it, but it seems like there are more printed stitches on the cover. And the binding of the the book is done in the gorgeous red thread.  It makes me wonder if they used five different colors of thread to bind different editions or print runs, so while I have a book bound in red thread, yours might be in orange or yellow or brownish. And I wonder if there can’t be some significance to that and how the text can be read.  Maybe the color of the binding thread can be interpreted as the color of the “real” narrator and the fact that everyone could say something about how the story isn’t any one person’s story but is shared equally among the five narrators (who I take to be the orphans mentioned in the story, but that’s just me finding reason).

Alright, so, should you buy it? I want to say yes because I want stuff like this t be supported. At the same time, it is clearly not meant for everyone. Leaf through it at Barnes and Noble or the library. What I wouldn’t do, under any circumstance, is bother with a digital copy. Unless they chocked a bunch of extras into the digital edition, I think you would be missing out on a key piece of the experience of the novel. get a physical copy of it, and enjoy it.

Book Links 9-11-12

September 11, 2012

Book selling seems to be a rough sport down under. Dymocks, an Australian book seller, is pulling entirely out of New Zealand. Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s nephew Matt Handbury is selling his international press, Murdoch Books, to the larger publisher Allen and Unwin. This consolidation of publishers is something we should maybe start getting used to. On a related note…

Harper Collins has reached new agreements to sell its ebooks. And Amazon immediately slashes prices on two best sellers to $10.  Contrary to popular belief, converting to a digital format doesn’t appear to erase the majority of the costs for publishing companies. It’s not surprising that this misconception exists, I was under it at one time, too. However, from all that I’ve read about it the actual creation of the physical book, the paper and cardboard and ink, makes up all of 20% of the price of the books we buy. The rest of those costs? Well, some go to the writer (hopefully). Some go to the publisher as profit (again, hopefully). A lot goes to people like editors, designers, marketers, etc. Actual people who work damn hard to make a book good and interesting. And, yes, covers matter. The physical design of a book matters. I still STILL covet my hardcover of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle because of the awesome Chris Ware designed cover. Murakami’s recent 1Q84 has an equally incredible cover by Chip Kidd. I scoop up Criterion Collection movies from used stores partly because the movies are great but also because they put a lot of effort in making awesome inserts to go with the movie.   Okay, rant over. There’s just a good reason that ebooks shouldn’t head straight to Clearance Bin level prices – especially if ebooks become the primary mode of distribution. People deserve to be paid for their work.

Speaking of Chris Ware, he has a new object coming out. Building Stories. I haven’t seen it yet, obviously, but I’m a big fan and this thing is just neat looking. I’m still trying to decide if I have the money to throw down on it. I’m thinking of getting it and, if I do,  a review will go up here fast.  I just heart Chris Ware.

Finally, the short list for the Booker prize has been announced.