Nonessential: The Expansion Paradox
J. E. Seanachai
Published in 2011
Part of me wants to say that this is a book that critics will look to for decades to come, when they need to define or describe the author’s work.
Another part of me wants to point out, though, that Jill Seanachai, in spite of what you might think based solely on her skills and talents, is still a young author, still with most of her career in front of her. It will hardly be fair, twenty or thirty or forty years from now, to point to her third book and say “There, that book right there, that was the book that defined her.”
Her first novel, Dead Bird in the Weeds, was a very good book. It was a first novel, with everything that means. There were some awkward turns of phrase, there was some unpolished writing, there were some editing issues. And yet it was a good book. It was also a first self-publishing venture, with everything that means. There were some design and formatting issues, especially in the first edition. Publishing is a completely different creature than writing, with its own steep learning curve, and she had not mastered it.
And yet, in spite of all this, Dead Bird in the Weeds is a very good book.
Nonessential proves that Jill has climbed those curves.
This is not your grandmother’s self-published book. This isn’t even a project most self-publishers would have approached without trembling. On the other hand, I don’t think this is a book that could have been produced in any other way, at least not by an author without the clout of years and years of bestsellers. Not in the world where you submit your manuscript in 12-point Times New Roman or it’s an automatic rejection. Not in the world where you don’t even submit to the publisher, but to an agent who sees the agent’s second job as cutting ten percent from each manuscript that makes it through the gauntlet of irrelevance of the submit/conform/resubmit gruel mill (emphasis on submit – as in “submissive”). The first job of an agent, of course, is rejecting manuscripts, as witness their gleeful tweets and blog posts about how “easy it makes the job” when authors use the wrong typeface, or the wrong form of salutation, or don’t get the butt-kissing part just exactly right in their queries (too much, apparently, is as fatal as too little). It will be left as an exercise for the reader to determine what, exactly, is “made easy” by these sins, since they are completely irrelevant to the task of finding good manuscripts. Silly me, I would have thought that was the job.
Nonessential is an exercise in book design, a manifesto of authorial control over the whole work of art that is a book.
This is not a book that was created by a publisher that has lost sight of its true business (providing publishing services to storytellers) and gotten lost in the hopeless fantasy that it exists to sell stories to readers. Storytellers have sold audiences on their stories without a publisher’s help since the very first fireside, and only the sudden increase in the cost of doing so (brought about by the increased size of the audience and the increased machinery of book production) ever gave publishers the idea that they were supposed to be gatekeepers in the first place. Why this hundred-year-old history gets to be called the “traditional model” is beyond me, but now that digital technology has reconnected storytellers to their audiences, we no longer need the machinery. We can tell our stories by ourselves, thank you very much.
And believe me, Nonessential: The Expansion Paradox stands ready to tell you a story.
Seven of them, to be more accurate.
Adam Hunter’s wife is gone, leaving him alone with their young daughter, and all he wants in all the world is to have her back. Or is that not true at all?
Dr David Goddard, philosopher, lecturer, educator, is changing the world with his lecture series and his three little words.
The Project Leader moves in and out of the story lines as though he is… well, as though he is in charge of something, possibly something even darker, even more sinister, than you imagine.
The Archivist, harried and overworked, struggles only to keep track of it all, under a set of arbitrary constraints that make no sense at all.
There is a chronological story that weaves all of these lives together, but it’s, um, not chronological.
There’s “Your story – start anywhere, go wherever.”
And, of course, there’s always the option to “read from cover to cover, as the author intended, ignoring all notations.”
Notations? Yes. Navigational notations. Per the “Instructions for reading,” page xiii. I told you, this is not your grandmother’s self-published book. The fact is that it stands ready to tell you these stories in a visual tour de force of design and formatting that adds to the book, rather than simply piggy-backing on it. Sidebars and navigational notations and line diagrams and dates transcend mere decoration or embellishment and become fundamental parts of the book. This is not a book you will close easily.
Buy the book.
Read it. Cover to cover. Like a book.
Tell everybody you know to read it.
My advice is as follows:
That’s what I did.
Check out her other books:
And I have two signed copies to give away!
First copy goes to the commenter who leaves me the best reason why you should get it. Bonus points for aliens, unicorns, zombies, or other signs of an unhealthy imagination. Comments close when I say they do, so hurry.
Second copy… Um. Stay tuned!