This is one of those books that took me by surprise. I didn’t pay any mind to it at all when it was first announced, and I mostly just chuckled sympathetically at the news that librarians were pissed that the solicitation for the book didn’t mention all of the loose items inside. It wasn’t until I saw a physical copy that had been opened and was available to thumb through that I got super intrigued and purchased a copy.
It was worth it, because this is less a book and more an experience. The amount of chutzpah it took to take this idea from conception to finished product is absolutely mind-blowing.
First off, the production values: wow they did not skimp a penny on this package. The cover price of $35 is steep, but it’s one of the few books where you feel like you can see where the money has gone. The book has era- accurate library binding and stickers. It smells right and even creaks right. The sheer variety of add ins – full color photos, replicated school newspapers, multiple postcards, a code decoder, a multiple-page letter from character to another, papers that look like they have been photocopied and papers that look like they were mimeographed. There’s heavy paper stock, cardboard, real photo paper. You can feel the time and care crafted in this text. This book may be a librarian’s nightmare, but so be it. It’s all meticulously done and it all feels justified, and not gimmicky. As far as I’m aware, an e-book edition of this title isn’t available. Honestly, I hope it stays this way. This is one of those books that needs to be experienced in its full tactile glory. I can honestly say that the experience just wouldn’t be the same in e-ink form.
Given the superb quality of the book itself, can the content reach such lofty heights?
As you may know, there are two parallel stories going on. The first is the novel “The Ship of Theseus.” by “V.M. Straka” supposedly written in the 1940s. I’d classify it as the magical realism subgenre of literary fiction. It tells the tale of a man named S. We never learn his real name, where or when it takes place; though there are clues that help ground you in the world. The quest starts out as a simple one: a man wanting to know both who he is and who this mysterious woman is. There is union busting, a weapons warlord and a mysterious ship that doesn’t seem to travel in the same time frame as the rest of us are living and that is run by men that make the crew of the Black Pearl from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie seem like cute puppies by comparison. Questions are raised and many left unanswered. It’s very well done and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
The other story here is set in the modern day. We have an undergrad named Jenn and a disgraced grad student named Eric trying to solve the mystery of who Straka was, what the deal with his translator was, analyzing the book, academic intrigue and just dealing with the stresses of life itself and it took is well done and it is the source of all the add-ins in the book as the characters use the book to communicate with one another.
There is a lot going on in this book, and it may take you a few tries to find a way to read it that works for you. I finally settled on reading the novel, then going back and reading the notes. Trying to read the two parallel stories simultaneous was just too much for me. Just know there is absolutely no one “right” way of reading the book. It’s very much a personal preference kind of situation. Also, I do think that which story you prefer will come down to personal preference as well. I actually liked the main novel better, but I know of people who preferred the one in the modern day. Your pick, though both are definitely worth reading.
As I mentioned, I don’t believe there is an e-book version and your library may not carry it because it is a librarian’s nightmare (even if you assume that patrons are going to take care of the book, a lot of the items have context-sensitive placement and these can easily fall out if you aren’t paying attention) which means that buying it may be your only option. Amazon is currently out of stock, but listed at $21. BN has it in stock at the same price. If you can’t afford it, find a friend to borrow a copy from. It really is worth it.
Verdict: Buy It