S. by Doug Dorst
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As a tutor of homeschooled students in my community, I have to fight against a certain proclivity when reading books: no writing or marking them! The parents generally won’t allow their children to “damage” the books, so they can be reused by younger siblings or resold to other homeschooling families. This rule eventually becomes the norm for the students, and as they grow older they have an ingrained objection to writing in books. I have and will continue to argue that they should mark up their books. It is a way for them to have a conversation with the author, but it is also a way for them to have a conversation with those who might read it after them. S. by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams is the novelization of such a conversation.
The book is filled with margin notes (annotations) and notes slipped between pages. There is really only one way to read the book:
1. First, read the novel itself, The Ship of Theseus. (It may be worth researching the ship of Theseus from Greek mythology.) Depending on your own attentiveness, you might read the whole novel first, then the annotations, or read a chapter at a time, then the annotations, or the facing pages then the relevant annotations.
2. Then, read the pencil, black, and blue annotations.
3. After finishing the entire novel and the above annotations, then read the green and yellow annotations.
4. After reading all of the green and yellow annotations, read the red and purple, then the black and black annotations.
5. As you read the annotations, look at the slip notes, if they make sense with the annotations you’ve just read, then finish reading it, if not, then wait until the next round of annotations.
6. The slip notes fall out very easily, it is best if you take them all out and label them with sticky notes identifying which page they were on. Keep them nearby as you read and watch the page numbers.
As you read this way, you will discover that a boy named Eric read this book and annotated it in pencil. At times, he’d go back and annotate it further with black ink, but around this time a girl named Jen found the book in the library and began adding her own annotations in blue ink. The annotations become a conversation between Eric and Jen who write notes then leave the book to be discovered by the other.
The novel itself, Ship of Theseus, is an interesting story, but the annotations become a story themselves. You end up reading a novel within a novel as you read through S. It can be confusing, though, because of the color-coded annotations are not always in chronological order. Sometimes, as you are reading, you will find a green and yellow annotation that doesn’t seem to make sense until another set of green and yellow annotations on a later page explain it. This is because the two readers are making annotations according to what’s in the text that reminds them of certain events in their own lives. You’ll just have to live with this. But, it is better to not read all of the annotations, regardless of color, on a page because the later annotations will give a lot a way. That’s why I recommend following the color-coding above.
As far as the two stories themselves, they are very interesting. They will keep you curiosity piqued as you read, but this is the brain child of J.J. Abrams, of television show, Lost, fame. If you are familiar with Lost, then you will know that Abrams is not interested in answering all of the questions. Much of what you read will not be answered as you read.
I do have one suspicion though, and if you are inclined to follow this out, I’d love to hear what you find–either in comments on Goodreads or on my blog. I think there may be codes in the Ship of Theseus footnotes that do answer these questions, but they are codes that Jen and Eric could not or did not figure out. Specifically, in my copy (and I need to confirm that this is in all copies) the later footnotes have a weird printing problem where some letters in the footnotes are bigger than others or look like a kind of subscript or superscript. I wonder if those oddly printed letters might be a code of themselves. If so, they’d be one that Jen and Eric didn’t mention in their own notes, but they may also just be a printing error in my copy. Not sure which.
This was a fun read just because I am so passionate about writing in books. I don’t think it was gimmicky at all, which I’ve seen some bloggers say. It was just fun.
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