'S.' by JJ Abrams & Doug Dorst is easily the weirdest book I've ever read…

I knew when I first learned about this book that it would challenge me. In case you haven’t heard, S. is a novel experience conceived by J.J. Abrams and written by both Abrams and Doug Dorst. The story is multilayered: ‘S.’ is the name of the ‘book’ and within the book are several ‘stories:’ first, there is the physical book itself entitled ‘Ship of Theseus’ by imaginary author V.M. Straka. The physical book is designed to look like a library book, faded pages included. Within the book’s pages are extensive margin notes written by two characters: Jen and Eric, who are reading the Straka book simultaneously and conversing with each other as they do it, trying to figure out who V.M. Straka really is. Tucked inside the pages are also loose objects that act as clues: postcards, scans of old telegrams, newspaper clippings, pictures and letters must be read and understood. The book turns into a fast-paced mystery, and even though I’m only about 100 pages in, I can tell this book is unlike any other I’ve ever seen.

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First, when I started reading, I read the novel and the margin notes at the same time, and quickly realized I wasn’t absorbing either storyline very well. I did some research on Goodreads: literally ‘how to read this book’ and I restarted by reading just the novel. Then I’ll go back and read the first round of margin notes, and a third pass reading the second round of margin notes, and hopefully by the end, I’ll have figured out the mystery—the mystery of how to read this book. 😉

It’s an interesting experience, because readers have to be aware of the novel’s storyline, the hidden messages within the novel’s text, and then they have to keep track of several characters who only appear in handwritten messages on the margins of the book. It’s less a novel and more of an experience, the same sort of way I would think of a 4D film in Disney World or something. It’s enhanced and circuitous, and takes much longer to read than an average book.

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I’m still only reading the novel portion and the storyline is crazy as it is, with a main character who enters the narrative having forgotten who he is and where he came from. He has only one syllable as his name—’S’—and finds himself on a hellish pirate ship crewed by men who have their mouths sewn shut. Reading this book has given me interesting dreams, and I’m only just getting started.

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It’s books and stories like these that reminds me of the endless creativity artists are capable of, and I love that Abrams was brave and crazy enough to turn an idea into a reality, medium be damned. Truly, this story could only be told through a physical book experience; neither film nor e-book version is possible for a story like this. S needs to be touched and interacted with. I’m excited to continue reading this book and figuring out this new experience of reading.

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  • I love when people take notes on books. It seems loved.
    Anyway, I haven’t read this book and from what I understand you found it difficult, but sometime I’d love to give it a go.
    Great post!

    • It’s not exactly difficult, it’s challenging. You have to go back several times and read through different sections so it’s more time consuming. But I have a feeling it’ll absolutely be worth the commitment in the end!

  • Whoa this looks absolutely crazy! I’m intrigued.

  • Holy damn, this sounds amazing! I often very much like J.J. Abrams work, so this must be a must-read. Purchasing it as soon as my next salary drops into mu account! Very exited!