No matter how in love you are with your Nook, how the text on your iPad is so clear and adjustable, how the velvet voice of the reader at Audible soothes your jangled nerves, you must always remember to purchase every novel by Mark Z. Danielewski in an early edition, hardback and at great cost. Why? Danielewski pays as much attention to the package—the physical book—as he does to the text itself. In fact, I might even suggest that Danielewski is a great creator of books but not necessarily a great writer of books.
Danielewski’s first book was House of Leaves. It was hardly more scary than the typical spook movie on the SciFi Channel, but it was creatively written with colored text, sloping passages, parallel stories (one in the footnotes and the other in the text) and an interesting collection of supporting evidence which was good enough to publish separately (one reason to get the early edition). His second novel was Only Revolutions, which was even more imaginatively printed. The story of Only Revolutions was that of two young people traveling around the country and through history; this was reflected in the text which was designed to be read in one direction, turned over at the end, and read back in the other direction until the last (first) page. In House of Leaves the reader could decide to read the footnote narrative along with the body narrative, page by page, or as some did, read one narrative straight through and then read the other narrative. For Only Revolutions I heard suggestions to peg the book on a spinner or to surround the reading surface with mirrors. It’s one of those books where you wish you could read independently with each eye
Now Danielewski’s third book, The Fifty Year Sword, is actually more traditional: the text is manipulated like a poem but at least it always faces the same way and breaks of white-space of colorful graphics allow the reader to be a little lest intense when reading this one. One thing that has been true of Danielewski novels is that they make good use of quality paper, color printing and graphics, and many quite expensive printers techniques. The Fifty Year Sword is no exception … but experience shows that these extras disappear in later editions so don’t delay getting your copy. Interestingly I see when you can get this book in digital form and it explains that you will lose the tactile holes in the cover but otherwise it is a perfect facsimile. This type of book with graphics that flow from page to page suggests to me that some of the advantages of digital books would ruin the effects of the printer’s art, so I recommend the real book, hard bound and in four colors.
I haven’t read The Fifty Year Sword yet. But the inside cover suggests a fun and imaginative story awaits. The summary begins, “One Halloween night …”