books in boxes

Ooh, I hadn’t heard of this one: a novel in a box, The Unfortunates, this one first published in 1969 by the British author B.S. Johnson. Thanks Tinka, for alerting me to it!

It would appear to have something in common with the possibly only envelope novel (konvoluttroman) in Norway, Bing and Bringsv?¶rd’s Sesam 71, which contains many strange items including a dictionary short story. Newer dictionary stories include Pavic’s Dictionary of the Khazars (1988) and Gr??nn’s Det som er strengt (2000). But they’re published as bound volumes. There’s a difference.

There are a host of other paper hypertexts and cybertexts, of course, ranging from the I Ching through Cortazar and Nabokov and onwards. Less frequently mentioned is Sven ?Öge Madsen’s Dage med Diam, which is a branching narrative – if you’re curious, you can read excerpts from the English translation.

Update: I received an email reminding me of Marc Saporta’s Composition #1, which is also a story in a box. I thought I’d been forgetting something. No Norwegian library has it, it was published in 1962 and never republished, and I can’t find it for sale anywhere online. But Nick’s posted his personal reading notes from encounters with the 1963 English translation in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania. Amazon.fr lists the French original but has no copies. I’m going to be near Philadelphia next month – I think I’ll go read it there. As MadInkBeard points out, Composition no. 1 is “oft-referred to but rarely examined”, and I hate that. It’s true of too much hypertext and electronic literature.

Update 9/9: Implementation of course does something similar though not on cards, it’s on stickers, and as for dictionary stories there’s Sarah Salway’s The ABCs of Love: A Novel of Romance from A to Z, which isn’t at all bad though a very breezy read intended for airports I think. My main complaint with it is that it sort of wants you to read it from A to Z, though there are cross-references. Barthes’s Fragments d’un discours amoureux (translated to almost every language I should think) is a classic of alphabetical organisation, of course; Barthes loved breaking out of linear narrative and argument.

07. September 2004 by Jill
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