You read the title, you know what this article is about. With all the hoopla over the last hundred or so years of us asking the same few questions (Will the book die out? Is the book dead?) over and over again, I’ve decided to do something a little more productive than just roll my eyes.
I’ve decided to give you five great books that you just can’t listen to. Yes, you may be able to find some actor with the soothing chirp of Michael Caine or the deep drawl of Morgan Freeman, but simply listening isn’t going to give you the full experience. For these books, you have to read them yourself.
I think you get the idea.
Now for this list I’ve discounted Mad Libs, coloring books, pop up books, or any comic book/graphic novels/manga. None of those will be appearing on this list. You’re old enough to know that you can’t just hear the soothing voice of a Stephen Fry while you’re running on the treadmill to get the full picture—you actually have to open up the comic book and read it. There’s no use of me reiterating that for the hundredth time.
What’ll be on this list are books. Books with spines and pages and words. Ready?
5. Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
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Written in Paris, Hopscotch was published in Spanish in 1963 and in English in 1966. Okay, so we’ve got Horacio Oliveira, an Argentinian writer who lives in Paris with his mistress, La Maga. Everything is going well until a child dies and La Maga disappears off the face of the planet. Not sure what to do, Oliveira returns to Buenos Aires, where he works by turns as a salesman, a keeper of a circus cat which can truly count, and an attendant in an insane asylum.
The Spanish Version / Image Via Wikipedia
Oh yeah, ninety-nine chapters are expendable. You read that right, expendable. Meaning they are useless, that they can be cut out of the book with no loss to the story, and with a book that’s 155 chapters in total, that means that about 63.87% of the book can be thrown out in the trash.
Why didn’t the editor do his/her job? I hear you ask, and the answer is why this book made this list.
See there are a couple of ways to read this book. You can read it from chapter one to chapter fifty six, or you can “hopscotch” throughout the book using the “Table of Instructions”. Or you can go completely random.
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Reading the book in order means that ninety-nine expendable chapters will make little to no sense. They’re nothing more than random musings.
Reading them using the “Table of Instructions” means that some of these expendable chapters can be revelations. See, the entire book is written in an episodic, snapshot manner. A real slice of lie type story. These expendable chapters, when you put them in order, can add information about the characters, such as giving more information about this guy named Morelli who pops up for a small cameo in the novel. At first, he’s random. Diving deep, we realize what he means.
Point is, these “expendable” chapters at first seem like random musings, but upon closer inspection some of these ‘musings’ are actually answers in disguise.
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Wait! I hear you say, can’t we just have two audio versions: One where a narrator goes through the book linearly and one where he “hopscotches” around using the “Table of Instructions”.
Well, assuming money is no obstacle, yes, but you forget about the third way to read this book: figure it out yourself.
Remember how I said reading the table means that only *some* of the expendable chapters make sense? That’s where making it up as you go along comes. Yes, that part where I said “you can go completely random” wasn’t a joke. In fact, Cortázar himself gives the reader the option of choosing a unique path through the narrative.
The book is a puzzle. It’s a choose your own adventure where you are left on your own devise to figure out the timeline between all these chapters. It won’t be easy, given that the narratives techniques switch from first person and third person to stream-of-consciousness and traditional spelling and grammatical rules are often bent or even outright broken, but this isn’t your typical book.
It’s a book you can’t just simply listen it.
4. Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters Remix
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Do you like Chuck Palahniuk? He wrote Fight Club, and I love Fight Club. I can’t stop talking about Fight Club. Did you know that Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, thinks Fight Club is better than Fight Club?
Chuck Palahniuk also wrote Invisible Monsters, a novel about a fashion model who has everything: a boyfriend, a career, a loyal best friend, but loses it all from when a sudden freeway “accident” leaves her disfigured and unable to speak. She becomes an ‘invisible monster,’ but then Brandy Alexander, Queen Supreme, walks into her life and teaches her that reinventing yourself means erasing your past and making up something better.
It’s a great book, and I wish I could talk about it, but I won’t. Instead I’ll talk about what Palahniuk deems the ‘director’s cut’ called Invisible Monsters Remix.
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This remix chops up the original story, presenting it in short scenes which end with a request to skip to another page. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure novel in which readers must follows the directions and flip through the book a la Hopscotch, but this book takes it one step beyond.
Yes, you can read the book linearly, yes you can flip around and, as per the introduction “jump to Chapter Forty-one,” or you could go completely random, but Palahniuk takes it one step beyond.
For a start, you can take out a pen and mark up the book. I’m serious. See, Palahniuk has added new chapters interspersed throughout the book and you can get lost flipping through the book. To solve this, the author himself encourages you, dear reader, to mark each page with an ‘x’ so when you get to the end (which is in the middle) you can look back to see if you’ve missed any pages.
You will miss pages. About three three chapters worth, in fact.
Plus, unlike Hopscotch, Palahinuk has this:
Image Via Danielshankcruz.files.wordpress
There’s nothing like two sequences where the pages that are printed backwards so you gotta use a mirror to read them. Wouldn’t you agree that the experience be less if you just listened to someone reading the pages normally?
3. S by Doug Dorst and J. J. Abrams
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The book is called S, but not really. It’s actually called Ship of Theseus, but not really. Let me explain.
Ship of Theseus was written by an elusive author named V. M. Straka and published in 1949.
S was written by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams, and they wrote three stories that are packaged into one.
The core story is Ship of Theseus by V. M. Straka, published in 1949, which is about an amnesiac, known only as S., who’s trying to figure out who he really is after waking up in a strange city who becomes trapped in a conflict between a violent, oppressive industrialist and his rebellious workers.
The book has footnotes describing how the author, V. M. Straka, was a secretive anarchist who might have written this book as an allegory of a real conflict and assassination conspiracy of which he was a part. No one knows who Straka is and supposedly he is dead, but the book’s editor, F. X. Caldeira, not only wrote the introduction but also included various footnotes throughout the book that seem to contain coded messages in an attempt to contact Straka.
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Now the book itself is a mock-up of a high school library’s check-out history of the book, spanning the years 1957 to 2000. A grad student named Eric has been working on his own theory of who Straka was, writing his notes in the margins. Jen, an undergrad student who works at the college library, writes out her responses in the margins, creating a conversation as they trade the book back and forth, blossoming into a romance as soon as they begin to encounter some danger by people who don’t want the truth to be known.
Everything The Book Comes With / Image Via Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling
One book, three stories.
2. The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
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Do you like pictures? Do you like words? How about pictures made out of words? Well there’s a word for that and it’s calligrams and this book is choc-full of them. Moving text, text that forms pictures, giant texts to emphasize words, this book has it.
Let’s take a step back.
A man named Eric Sanderson wakes up in a house he doesn’t recognize, unable to remember anything of his life. A note instructs him to call a Dr. Randle, who informs him he’s had another episode of memory loss.
Apparently this has been happening for the last two years, but Eric isn’t too sure. He decides to learn the truth, escaping the predatory forces that threaten to consume him.
Postmodern magic rituals, conceptual predators swimming the abstract depths of consciousness, this psychological odyssey is a brilliant story by its own, but Hall takes one step beyond.
The text loops and swerves, putting the reader in Hall’s mindset.
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It even gives us an image of what Hall sees with images like this:
Image Via Than Words
Try have someone reading that text out loud! Hall knows that simply saying “an eye appeared” wouldn’t be as powerful as showing us an eye made up of words, making our skin crawl as we feel multiple eyes staring right as us through the very page itself.
But Hall then doesn’t just make the text see, he gives it a face.
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A picture is worth a thousand words, and these pictures are made of words
1. House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski
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This book is 709 pages and I read it over the courage of two days. My eyes could not be peeled away. I was lying on the bathroom floor in a hotel at midnight, my cousin’s wedding in eight hours, and I refused to close the book. My brother was asleep in the next room so I couldn’t turn on the light, so I went in the bathroom and lay across the floor and read this book until I was finished.
My cousin’s wedding is a blur, but this book isn’t.
House of Leaves is about a house that is about a little less than an inch bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
Let’s back up. We start off with a first-person narrative by Johnny Truant, a Los Angeles tattoo parlour employee and professed unreliable narrator. Looking for an apartment, Traunt finds out about the meant of the recently deceased Zampanò, a blind, elderly man.
Curious, Traunt goes to the apartment and finds that the blind man was writing a book. Yes, the blind man was writing a book. The book is an academic study of a documentary film called The Navidson Record, even though, according to Traunt, there’s no evidence that the film or its subjects ever existed, even though Zampanò quotes the likes of famous figures from Stephen King to Stanley Kubrick and Anne Rice.
Image Via KCRW
From here, Traunt’s story is told through increasingly long footnotes sprinkled into The Navidson Record, which is about a documentarian who moves into a house with his family and realizes that their house is bigger on the inside than the outside.
What’s more, the house seems to be expanding while the outside stays the same. Plus, a dark, cold hallway opens in an exterior living room wall that should project outside into their yard, but does not. It’s also impossible to shine a light in this hallway and, furthermore, seems to be shifting and growing.
The book utilizes different fonts to distinguish characters. These are: Times New Roman (Zampanò), Courier (Johnny), Bookman (The Editors), and Dante (Johnny’s mother).
It also uses color changes.
Image Via Fox Burrow Magazine
The word “house” is colored blue (gray for non-color editions of the book and light gray for red editions.
The word Minotaur and all struck passages are colored red.
References to Johnny’s mother are colored purple.
This is just the basic stuff right here.
Image VIa Goodreads
A prime example of ergodic literature, the book contains copious footnotes, many of which contain footnotes themselves…
Image VIa Ergodic Design
…while other pages contain only a few words or lines of text…
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…some of the text is arranged to mirror the events in the story or a character’s mind…
Image Via The Reader’s Room
There are sections where there were just a few words on the page while a chase was happening so you sped through the pages like you were running through the halls and there are sections where the dialogue from people on top of a staircase was high on the page while speech from the characters down below was on the bottom of the page.
Image Via Cornerfolds
Image Via Goodreads
Give me audiobook of that! You can’t, because to read this book, to read all these books, you have to do more than skim through the pages, you have to interact with them. You have to rip them apart, mark them up, twist them and turn them.
Call these big five art, call these big five artsy, call these big five pretentious, I call them the reason why “The book is dead” question makes my eyes roll into the back of my head.
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