S. is the Book for Anti-e-Readers Everywhere

If you are an avid reader/writer, chances are that you do not care too much for the e-readers (e.g., Kindle, Nook, Kobo). If you are not, do yourself a favor and find a reader/writer and ask them whether or not they prefer hardcover or e-reader. You will hear things like: “it doesn’t have the same smell,” “I miss the cover,” “I need to turn the pages.” Yes, avid book readers are junkies in their own right. For the most part, I agree with them. An e-reader will never be anywhere as good as a well-made hardcover. It just doesn’t have the same personality.

E-readers, however, do have their uses: mainly space-saving and book renting. I have a kindle and I love using it to ferret out future books to add to my collection. That said, not every author will even offer the choice to go digital. J.J. Abrams (yes, THAT J.J. Abrams) and novelist Doug Dorst (Alive in Necropolis) have come together to create S., a novel that absolutely cannot be read by e-reader. How was this accomplished? Take a look:

All of that is hidden inside the novel.
All of that is hidden inside the novel.

Anyone out there looking to get physcially excited to read a book, do yourself a favor and check this out. I may or may not have squealed with glee as I opened S. The hidden letters, the code-breaker, it all comes together to create an experience unlike any other. What is presented within the pages is a mystery, arguably the only genre that would work with this format. How is the story: couldn’t tell you yet, I’m still reading (it is nothing short of captivating so far). This is not meant to be a review for S. Let us instead examine the positives and negatives of this format, and whether or not authors have found a viable (if more in-depth) alternative to going digital.

For starters, the obvious good: this thing is FUN to read. The text itself is a complete novel. There are no nods or winks at the two commentators, whose notes provide a secondary story over the main source material. Anyone looking to blow through a book better just move on because S. will make a reader slow down and appreciate it. The format of the story draws the reader in as part of the mystery. Everyone (and when I say everyone, I mean us book geeks) has dreamed of finding that mysterious tome in the back shelves of a library and discovering something truly wondrous. No, this is not Tom Riddle’s diary, but expect to have fun nonetheless.

It is unclear which story is more intriguing, both succeed in keeping the reader entertained.
It is unclear which story is more intriguing, both succeed in keeping the reader entertained.

The obvious bad: there are pieces. This is not a book to be read on the train or while traveling, not unless one is extremely careful. Even reading in bed, I have had several occasions where one of the excerpts has nearly slipped free. If lost, there is no real indicator of where it belonged, short of reading the whole thing again to figure it out (another mystery!). There is a simplicity and convenience that can be found with most novels (and e-readers) that is lacking here. In most cases, it is not a bad thing. This is simply a book that demands one’s entire attention.

Even the outside of the book is specially designed to resemble a library book.
Even the outside is specially designed to resemble a library book.

I have seen other books attempt to do what S. accomplishes. The Jedi Path: A Manual for Students of the Force (no, I do not think I can get any more nerdy) also features notations from past readers, but these are little more than bizarre flavor and don’t really add anything substantial. There is also no extra material, allowing the book to be available via e-readers. Again, were S. not a mystery, I do not believe this format would work as well.

S. is not the only fascinatingly written book out there. For those seeking other experiences, I recommend House of Leaves. Simply put, there are some things e-readers can do, and some things they cannot. In the words of J.J. Abrams:

“It’s intended to be a celebration of the analog, of the physical object. In this moment of e-mails, and texting, and everything moving into the cloud, in an intangible way, it’s intentionally tangible. We wanted to include things you can actually hold in your hand: postcards, Xeroxes, legal-pad pages, pages from the school newspaper, a map on a napkin.”

Now that is a cool idea.

One last note, I know that Benedict Cumberbatch is rumored to be a villain in the book. I can neither confirm nor deny those rumors.

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