BY SARAH SALWAY
[In this new series (idea copped from High Fidelity), our contributors put together a “top 5” list of books on a theme of their choosing.]
As a child, I loved those books that would say “go to page xx, if you want xx to happen, or page xx, if you want xx to happen.” They made me feel I was actually part of the story. Now, as an adult, the kind of thrill I get when I see narrative rules being broken still makes me want to go up to strangers and say, “see this. You won’t believe what s/he has done here.” Not that I would. But if I did, these are five of the books I’ve accosted strangers about, or would have done… if I was that kind of person.
FIVE BOOKS THAT JUST WANT TO PLAY WITH YOU
The daddy of them all, written in 1759, and still breathtaking in what he does, and how he does it. Laugh out loud funny too–something people wrongly tend not to imagine experimental books to be.
A 300 page novel written without the use of the letter E. Originally written in French, surprisingly it has been translated with the exact same form imposed. (Not surprisingly, the English translator, Gilbert Adair, won an award for his translation)
Nollop is a country that spends most of its time worshiping its namesake, the creator of the sentence, “The Quick Brown Fox Jumped Over the Lazy Dog.” But when letters start to drop off the sentence, citizens (and the author) are forbidden to use the missing letters. Communication becomes more and more ingenious as the letters keep falling, and the citizens fight not to get stuck in their language net.
Now, a confession–I haven’t actually read this in the original because that’s a very limited collection indeed. This book was published on separate pieces of paper, boxed but not bound, with the idea that you could then read it in any order you wanted. Genius. In fact so genius, that B. S. Johnson apparently sent it out to review with another separate piece of paper informing critics how they should read it. (If you enjoy B. S. Johnson, the biography, Like A Fiery Elephant by Jonathan Coe is definitely worth reading.)
All thoughts of sinking into a satisfying read are deliberately disturbed, as you search with the main characters–two readers–for the book you are supposed to be holding in your hands, called–you’ve guessed it–If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller. Fascinating study of the act of reading.