Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dear Gentle Reader,

As I have mentioned, the premise is this:  Jonathan Safran Foer took a book by Bruno Schulz called Street of Crocodiles, cut it apart, as if with an exacto knife, and created a whole new story, which he calls Tree of Codes.  This is what one page looks like:

That's my lime green paper behind the page, so that you can see better.  The book is extremely delicate, and must have been very difficult to make.  I first ordered Tree of Codes on February 22, from  At that time, it was not available on Amazon, unless I wanted to pay two times the list price from "these sellers".  Borders expected to ship it in 2 weeks.  A month later, I contacted Borders to see where the book was, and was informed that they didn't have it, and that if they didn't have it in another month, they would cancel my order.  Another month went by, and they made good on their promise.  Throughout April and May, I kept checking Amazon to see if they had gotten copies in.  Finally, in desperation, I just googled the name of the book, hoping to find it at a reasonable price at some independent book store, anywhere.  Then Amazon had it.  I ordered, and it arrived - about 4 months after my original order, just like Amazon predicted when the book was first released!

When I say that this book is delicate, I mean that it is only for gentle readers.  As careful as I was, I almost tore a page a couple of times.  This is what 4 pages together look like, to give you an idea:

The words on one page can easily get stuck on the next.  I love libraries, but Tree of Codes is not an appropriate library book - it would not make it through more than 2 or 3 checkouts.  This means that if you want to read Tree, you probably will have to buy it.  I have heard a rumor that JSF made the book in this delicate manner in order to defeat the e-readers, and get people to buy paper books.  I mean obviously, he could have blacked or whited out the words, and made it much easier to publish.  I have to say that the kindle people could probably figure out a way to put the book in electronic form, but I am guessing that it might involve taking a picture of each page, with a blank page behind it. 

So how's the story?  Dark and gray.  Don't get me wrong, it is typical JSF, with "nothing"s and "everything"s aplenty, which I love.  It's amazing that JSF was able to find his own voice within someone else's words.  But given that JSF started with Schulz's colorful imagery, I was hoping for something completely different from Street of Crocodiles.  Instead, it sort of told a similar story, with more blame on the mother.  Maybe, if I hadn't read Crocodiles first, I would have interpreted Tree of Codes differently.  As I was reading JSF's salvaged words, I was remembering how Schulz's story was progressing at that point, which may have shaped my vision. 

As for the paragraph that I quoted in the last post, JSF didn't use a single word, and cut out the whole thing. I love the concept that JSF used to make this book work.  I would like to try it myself, with the same book, and see if I can come up with a totally different story. Maybe if I can find some spare time I'll buy another copy of Crocodiles, and cross out words with a pencil.  It seems like this could be an online writer's workshop, with the Schulz estate posting an editable version of Crocodiles online, and inspired readers paying a fee to the estate to cut it down to form their own story.  It wouldn't look as awesome as JSF's book, but it would make a great experiment.

Here's my attempt at taking Schulz's words, as edited down by JSF, to form my meaning:

The tree of codes was better than a paper imitation
 Next up:  I'm not sure.  I have A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan on hold at the library, and as of yesterday, they said that I should have it in 2 days.  As of today, they say the wait is "undetermined".  I may go ahead and start All is Vanity by Christina Schwarz while I wait.

Still listening to:  Sunset Park by Paul Auster

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