A few weeks back I wrote about my concerns for traditional brick and mortar bookstores and questioned their survival as ebooks continue to grow in sales. While I believe that the traditional bookstore will always be with us, I do see inventory sizes shrinking if booksellers choose to reduce their print volumes and increase their digital offerings. Shrinking inventories will mean shrinking bookstores (both in quantity and in square footage) which will likely mean that bookstores will have to be more picky about what titles are ordered and placed on their shelves. There may very well come a day when 90% or more of the print titles we find in a traditional bookstore are titles with authors with solid sales records — experimental/unusual books, new authors, and genres that may have only a shelf or two today may become much more difficult or impossible to find… and this bothers me.
Take the experimental/unusual books, for example. In my office, I have a small collection of books on the shelf, of mixed topics, that a visiting friend recently discovered. After spending about 20-30 minutes going through them, he wrote down each and every title and author and explained that he’d be ordering all of them, a few at a time, over the next few months. I was surprised that he’d never seen these kinds of books — ones filled with ephemera… removable content such as postcards, notes, photographs, and other inserts. I love these kinds of books. Love. Them. And there’s simply not enough of them. (If you know of any that I’m not going to share with you below, PLEASE tell me title and author!)
For me, I love handling the ephemera… there’s just something these bits and pieces add to a story. Digital versions of these books hold no appeal to me… I’m sure that publishers can find a way to embed these kinds of things into an ebook, but the thought of it just makes me cringe. While the print versions exist, I’m going to grab them every time I find a new one.
I don’t know how easy it will be to find some of these. I know a few of them were difficult for me to obtain a copy. But trust me… all of them are amazing and a few are beyond outstanding in one way or another as you’ll soon see. Some are for kids… others are really for adults. Some fall easily into one genre while others are almost impossible to categorize. Maybe you’ll find one or two here that will interest you or a young reader. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books as well as any you may have in your library.
S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
The latest edition to my ephemera-laden book collection, S. actually got two reads from me, one right after the other. Let me explain.
S. as it’s currently being sold comes in the form of a hardback book titled Book of Theseus, written by V.M. Straka and liberated from one Leguna Verde High School Library. Scattered throughout the book is a mix of twenty-two pieces of inserted ephemera — photocopies of correspondence, postcards, photographs, handwritten notes, a telegram, a code wheel, and even a map drawn on a napkin, among other items. (Complete list here along with the page numbers where they are inserted so you can verify your purchase and make certain all items are accounted for and in their proper place.)
I don’t have the room here to do a book review justice. Suffice to say, try to avoid spoilers if at all possible. Whether you’re a J.J. Abrams fan or not, there’s no arguing that this is a very unique book with many layers of storytelling tucked into the pages. In addition to the ephemera, the book is covered (C-O-V-E-R-E-D) with hundreds of back-and-forth discussions in the margins between two individuals who are attempting to discover the deeper secrets buried in the book.
The book took me a long time to finish — not only are you reading the text of the story (Ship of Theseus), but you’re also going to need to figure out how best to read the book’s margin discussions — the two individuals writing in the book actually read the book more than once themselves, so you’ll need to figure out how to parse the margin discussions. That said, a Google search will find you a few suggestions for reading — some readers prefer to read a page of the story and then read all the margins on that page and then move on to the next page of story and then the margins. Others will tell you to just read Ship of Theseus first and then go back and read all the margin stuff… a very difficult task, but I can totally see the benefit of that suggestion if you have the willpower to do it. (It took me a chapter or two to figure out the secret of parsing the margin discussions by first read, second read, etc… so once I did that, I only read the text PLUS the first read’s margin discussions… then I went back and re-read a second time the second read’s margin discussions.)
I won’t say anything about the overall story, but don’t expect a typical J.J. Abrams science fiction story. S. stands all on its own as unique in terms of genre and secrets to discover on your own. The ephemera just helps sell the entire project — a left-behind book found by one individual that turns into a back-and-forth dialogue with another individual and the notes, photos, and other items that they share with one another in the pages as they try to figure it all out.
An Interactive Sherlock Holmes Mystery: The Crimes of Dr. Watson by Duane Swierczynski
Dracula’s Heir: An Interactive Mystery by Sam Stall
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation – The Interactive Mystery by Sam Stall
These three books from Quirk are the perfect example of using inserted paper props to support a mystery that the reader can try and solve before breaking the seal in the back and reading the final solution. I am quite proud of myself for figuring out the CSI book’s mystery as well as Dracula’s Heir, but the Sherlock Holmes mystery completely baffled me.
Scattered throughout each book are about a dozen paper props — most are stored in small envelopes to protect their contents, but others have their own unique method for providing clues. For example, the CSI book provides some evidence tucked inside plastic evidence bags — open the bag, examine the evidence, and try to solve the mystery before Grissom, Willow, Brass, Stokes, and the other CSI crew can do so. (Even though I solved this one, I still missed a few clues that would have solidified my solution.)
The Dracula book has its own unique blend of ephemera, including a supposed lost chapter from Bram Stoker’s original novel. And tucked into the Sherlock Holmes book was a fun mix of Victorian-era paper props including a reproduction of The Final Problem, the story of Holmes and Moriarty’s final battle at Reichenbach Falls.
Each of these thin books runs 80 pages or less, making them fast reads if you just read the story… but it’s examining all the pieces tucked into pages that really makes them fun (and, of course, crucial to actually solving the mysteries).
Note: There is a fourth Interactive story from Quirk that I’ve only just found and ordered, Batman: Murder at Wayne Manor by Duane Swierczynski. Will try to report back here in a follow-up post with more books of this kind.
These three hardback books are quite special — from the back cover copy of Red Jericho:
England, 2002: Joshua Mowll inherits a remarkable archive of documents and painstakingly pieces together a series of extraordinary events that took place more than eighty years earlier.
This is the story of an ancient order created to protect the world from evil and two young people who get caught up in an astonishing adventure… with far reaching consequences for the whole world.
Kids are going to love it — but so will adults. All three books are filled with photos, figures, and sketches, but it’s the incredible foldouts that each book has that are going to blow you away — maps, deck plans, schematics, and more, all in full color and with text, fonts, and other imagery typical of the 1920s. Mowll is both writer and artist, and the sheer volume of artwork that he created for this trilogy is astonishing. If you or a son or daughter have a thing for Indiana Jones mixed with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea mixed with desert romps and a suitable bad guy and his army, you’ll be wondering how you ever missed this series.
The books are available in paperback form now, but the hardback books have that journal-specific elastic band that can keep the book closed or act as a bookmark. The series has been out for some time now, but when I read the first book shortly after its release, I knew this was going to be one of those trilogies I wanted to grab and hold on for my own kids to read one day.
With artwork by Duncan Cameron and text written by Richard Platt, this is one of those books that any kid who loves a good treasure hunt story will find hard to put down. This book puts the paper props into overdrive, with dozens and dozens and dozens of props glued, tucked, and inserted throughout the story of professional diver Duncan Cameron on the hunt for a fortune tucked away in a shipwreck.
The book is filled with maps, charts, photos, cutaway images, tutorials (tying knots), sketches, notes, sticky notes, news clippings, and even an actual compass embedded in the cover (and removable). Inside a sealed envelope in the back of the book is a Dive Log that readers will use to take notes as they read through the book and document their discoveries in various locations.
I have no idea how long it took to create this book, but the amount of information provided to readers (along with all the original artwork) is substantial — young readers should find days, maybe even weeks of entertainment.
I’ve got some more books of this sort to share with you, and will do so in a follow-up post… but I’d also like to ask readers for their help in locating more books. If you’ve got the title and author of any books that use paper props (ephemera) in either a fictional or non-fictional manner, please let me know in the comments… and thank you in advance!