Tag Archives: B.S. Johnson

Books Acquired Recently

Cvetkovich, Ann. An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.

I have become very interested in the concept of the archive recently. As part of my reading about it I encountered a citation to Cvetkovich’s book and it sounded interesting, so I decided to buy it. It, along with Kauffman’s and Dangarembga’s books, were purchased from amazon.com’s network of independent booksellers.

Dangarembga, Tsitsi. The Book of Not. Banbury, UK: Ayebia Clarke Publishing, 2006.

I recently taught the prequel to this novel, Nervous Conditions, and realized that I had forgotten how good it was. It is good enough that it sequel deserves a read, as well.

Kauffman, Janet. oh corporeal. N.p.: Coldwater Press, 2010.

I have read much more of Kauffman’s fiction than of her poetry. In my slow move toward remedying this state of affairs I decided to buy this chapbook.

Suzanne, Miriam [as Eric M. Suzanne]. Riding Sidesaddle*. Denver: SpringGun Press, 2015.

I just recently found out about Miriam Suzanne, a trans Mennonite author, and bought her novel right away in part because queer Mennonite literature is my primary scholarly interest and in part because it is an unbound book that comes in a box! The reader can read the story in whatever order they choose. In this way it is similar to B.S. Johnson’s novel The Unfortunates (which is one of my favorite books), but even more so because every single page is unbound rather than being bound into chapters. I can’t wait to read it! You can buy it here.

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Good Writing on Reading Digitally and its Consequences

I’m a bit behind on my PMLA reading, and I was reading the January 2013 (128.1) issue this morning, which includes an excellent suite of essays on “Reading in the Digital Age.” I’ve written here about these issues before, especially about my concern that we retain less and our brains get less exercise when we read digitally rather than in print, and the frightening long-term effects this will have on society. Thus it was nice to discover that such a prestigious journal is paying close attention to the subject. Here are some of the highlights:

My favorite article in the group is Naomi S. Baron’s “Redefining Reading: The Impact of Digital Communication Media,” which reports the results of several surveys she conducted measuring both students’ and the general population’s attitudes about reading digitally versus reading in print. I like the article because the survey shows that even students who have grown up with computers all of their lives realize that they prefer reading in print once they are asked to think about it. Respondents appreciate the physicality of reading books, even textbooks that they are planning on selling back to the bookstore at the end of the semester (which is another problem to discuss another time). They also say that they retain information much better when they are interacting with print texts, in part because they get distracted in electronic environments. The article also shows that more and more people conceive of reading as a search for specific bits of information rather than as an exploration fueled by intellectual curiousity. I admit that sometimes I am guilty of this in my research, going straight to a book’s index to find the passages that are relevant to my topic, but I also enjoy reading for pleasure rather than purpose, and I have grown intellectually just as much if not more via the former kind of reading as the latter. Baron’s essay is necessary reading for anyone interested in the life of the mind and how it’s evolving, and I am going to assign it to my students this autumn.

Michael Cobb’s intriguing article “A Little Like Reading: Preference, Facebook, and Overwhelmed Interpretations” examines what sort of reading act occurs when we “Like” something on Facebook. I am addicted to Facebook, and am glad to see that it continues to draw serious academic analysis. One of the most profound conference presentations I’ve ever heard was a presentation on Facebook as a form of autobiography at the 2010 MLA Convention. Seriously engaging with Facebook rather than simply dismissing it as a waste of time is essential because of its ubiquitousness, and Cobb’s essay is a superb example of this engagement.

Jim Collins’s essay “Reading, in a Digital Archive of One’s Own,” which is pro-digital reading, is a thought-provoking piece in part about how both sides of the debate are represented by unhelpful caricatures and how the debate problematically takes place as “an exercise in nostalgia, grounded in a discourse of inevitable loss” (212), and in part about how one’s digital playlist is a form of autobiography just like one’s library. Collins makes a good point about how those of us who are defenders of print media need to integrate the realities of digital reading into our viewpoint, though I don’t think he pays enough attention to the foreboding realities of digital reading described in Baron’s essay.

N. Katherine Hayles’s essay “Combining Close and Distant Reading: Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes and the Aesthetic of Bookishness” argues that many recent authors (she also mentions B.S. Johnson’s classic The Unfortunates) have expressed concern about the future of the book by creating books that play with books’ traditional physical form. She offers a helpful, data-ridden analysis of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes as an example of this trend.

Lisa Nakamura’s essay “‘Words with Friends'” Socially Networked Reading on Goodreads” is also quite good for many of the same reasons as Cobb’s. She examines Goodreads as an important source of data on contemporary reading habits, but also notes that is important to keep in mind that such seemingly-innocent social networking sites function because users consume their advertising. They are cogs of capitalism in disguise.

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Books Acquired Recently: English Soccer Novels Edition

King, John. The Football Factory Trilogy: The Football Factory, Headhunters, England Away. London: Vintage, 2000.

Sampson, Kevin. Awaydays. London: Cape, 1998.

I recently ordered these two books used from English bookshops via amazon.com. Sampson’s book is autographed, which is a nifty bonus, especially considering that I only paid $0.02 for it (both books originally retailed for £9.99).

Virtually no fiction about soccer is published in the United States (I remember reading one or two children’s novels on the subject as a kid), but I recently read Graham Parker’s interview of Sampson on grantland.com and decided that his work sounded exciting. When looking online for his book, I came across King’s as well. The only novel I’ve ever read that is even nominally about soccer is B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates, so I am looking forward to reading further in the field. I love English soccer, and these two books will be an enjoyable way of feeding my craving for it during the summer offseason.

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Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters Remix

Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters Remix is a fantastic printed object that deserves space in the canon of American postmodern fiction. It is the 1999 version of Invisible Monsters in its original intended form, which asks the reader to jump back and forth throughout the volume, kind of like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book from the 1980s. For instance, the end of the introduction instructs the reader to “jump to Chapter Forty-one,” where the novel begins. The end of that chapter directs the reader to another chapter, eventually culminating in the final chapter near the middle of the volume, which is marked “The End” in place of further direction.

However, this chapter sequence only covers the chapters from the original novel. There are around ten (I’m too lazy to go back and count!) new chapters interspersed throughout the book, some that extend the story of the novel and some that describe its original composition and how the idea for the Remix came about. If one has not been paying attention to which chapters have been read, it is easy to miss these new chapters. But the introduction suggests marking each read page with an X, which is what I did, and then I went through the book looking to check if there were any unread pages, thus discovering the new chapters. There are three sequences of new chapters that loop back on themselves, so the reader could begin with any of the chapters in the sequence and still encounter all of the chapters (e.g., I began the first sequence with chapter three because it was the first unread chapter that I discovered, and the last chapter I read in the sequence directed me back to chapter three, so even if I had begun with a different chapter in the sequence I still would have gotten to all of its chapters).

Two of the new sequences involve pages that are printed backwards so that the reader must use a mirror to read them.

Pages 16-17 of Invisible Monsters Remix.

A close-up of page 16 of Invisible Monsters Remix.

 

Palahniuk acknowledges that readers “older, than, say, twenty-two” will hate this gimmick (104), but I love it! I appreciate books that try to stretch the limit of what a physical book can be, which is why I like the Remix so much. It combines elements of previous postmodern texts such as B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates and Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Even if one is not a fan of Palahniuk, the Remix is worth reading because of how it tries to break through the novel’s conventional generic form.

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Book Acquired Recently: B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates

Johnson, B.S. The Unfortunates. 1969. New York: New Directions, 2007.

This is one of my favorite books. I already have a copy, but just received a desk copy from the publisher (New Directions is great!) because I’ll be using it in one of my classes this fall. It is more of an art object than a book: it comes unbound in twenty-seven separate sections in a box that also has writing (more of the “book”) on it. Aside from the first and last sections, each chapter is unnumbered, thus one may read it in whatever order one wishes. The structure of the book fits with its theme, the randomness of memory, which is not chronological, but is set off via random reminders instead. It is like a print version of a hypertext story. Well worth reading.

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