Psychedelic Text: Art, or Crap?


Most books, once you get to the inside, look the same.  Black print, off-white paper.  What’s actually written is the only thing that is different.  There are a few, however, which are definitely different.  Where the author feels that the way those words are printed is part of the story too.   It seems to either be wildly successful, or incredibly annoying, and which one it is seems to depend on the person reading it.

There are books with only minor changes, such as coloured type.  The two I think of off the top of my head are Sacré Bleu, by Christopher Moore, and The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende.   They were both printed with coloured ink, in the case of Sacré Bleu, in, you guessed it, blue .  Because blue is so central to the story, the blue ink was a masterly touch.  In the edition of The Neverending Story that I had, it was printed in red and green, depending on which point of view was being used in the story at the time.  It was incredibly effective at making you feel like you truly were a part of the story.

Then there are books like The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, and  The Fifty Year Sword, by Mark Danielewski.

The Raw Shark Texts was pretty amazing.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  It is incredibly difficult to describe, except that it is based around the premise that creatures have evolved that live in thoughts, and ideas, including the thoughts in your head as well as those in books.  Those creatures include predators.  You have to be in the right frame of mind to read it, and it certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but have you ever read something that made your brain excited?  This did that for me.  The text of the book is warped and changed to give you an idea of what creatures made of words and ideas might look like.  The word “fish” printed in the shape of a fish, for example – literally the idea of a fish.  Anyways, just read it.

The Knife of Never Letting Go begins in a village where everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts.  The more intense and emotional, the “louder” the thought.  The book has overlapping words, done in what looks like messy, angular handwriting, to try to get across the idea of having multiple thoughts all being inflicted on you simultaneously, on top of your own.   Although it is technically a teen book, the ideas in it are certainly interesting enough to occupy an adult.

The Fifty Year Sword is going to be out in October (yay for ARCs, advanced reading copies).  It’s a novella, set on a night in Texas, where “five orphans gather to hear a story about a quest for a terrible weapon.”  So far, I haven’t gotten past the first few pages.  The entire thing is in dialogue, and there are quotes set within quotes, people interrupting each other and quoting other people. There are strange sketches on the facing pages.  I find it so annoying and confusing I have given up, at least for now.  To me, the way it is being presented has ruined the story for me, and I just can’t keep going, much as I hate not finishing a book.  I may try again when I’m feeling more patient (so probably never), but for now, I’m giving this one a pass.

In conclusion, sometimes it’s art, sometimes it’s crap, and all the cool printing in the world can’t make a great story, but terrible printing may ruin a good one.


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