Book Review: S, by J.J. Abrahms and Doug Dorst

Overall Impressions

I really wanted to enjoy this book. I got a physical copy shortly after it came out, but every time I decided to try it, I would read 20 pages and then not get anywhere with it. Because you don't just pick this book up and read it... it's a story within a story within a story with multiple lines of dialog, stories, embedded codes, and even little inserts and leafelets.

Such a cool idea - and I was engaged as I read it - but now that I've finished it, I'm just sorta like "what was that?" and "I'm not sure whether it was actually good or not".

The Good

Geez I can complain a lot about this book, but I found myself reading this in aggressive spurts. I thought the actual printed book was interesting (though maybe not as much as the two people writing back and forth in the margins did. But their story was intriguing too. Once I made a push to really get started more than those 20 pages, it kept me going.

The Bad

Just deciding how to read this book is a bit tough. Do you read "The Ship of Theseus" by itself and only then go back and consume all of the hand written dialog in the margins, inserts, etc? You could do that, but I don't think it would work as well, because even though they try to make it so that there are different dialogs at different times, I actually think you're meant to read it straight through and consume it all at once - and then maybe go back and study it all some more to figure out some of the puzzles and embedded coded messages. But should a reader have the burden placed on them of deciding how to read a book?

There were some bits of dialog that came out of nowhere and were unexplainable. They were intentional and meant to represent these two having written dialog between them but also having a life outside of the book - but we don't get to see that - so neat, you made it "real" but I'm still confused and wondering why those details are there.

The embedded codes were not required for understanding the plot. I didn't solve any of them myself - but I did read about them on a website where other people did. Maybe books with embedded codes are for some people - and I'm even at least a bit into cryptography! - but I just wanted to read a book.

You can't just read this book anywhere. You need to have some space around you to organize the inserts and such and make sure you don't lose any. I hear that there is a decent ebook available, but I don't know how that would work. And an audiobook would be right out, which means no consuming this while I exercise.

The chapters are very long - probably longer than you will want to read in one sitting, so you'll find yourself stopping at random parts. And because there are inserts throughout and random amounts of hand written dialog in the margins along with stops to investigate codes... you can't really tell how much time it'll take to get to a stopping point.

Final Thoughts

I feel good that I finally finished this book, but I don't see myself ever rereading it, which should say something - because when I really enjoy a book, I tend to eventually reread it once enough time passes that I can experience some of the magic again.

So, I liked it, but I'm not sure why - and there were things about it that were rough, but I'm still going to go with a 4 out of 5 star rating.