Reading Experiences That Go Beyond the Book

Reading Experiences That Go Beyond the Book

Bored with the typical reading experience of words on a page? Know a reluctant reader who might warm to a book if it had a multimedia element? These postmodern books from the likes of Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Rick Riordan give readers fascinating inserts, accompaniment albums, and online scavenger hunts. With such innovative ways to tell a story, they’ll get even the most lukewarm bookworm jazzed about reading.

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    1. House of Leaves

    You might want a pad and paper to write this all down. This book is about a house—a labyrinth of a house that’s bigger on the inside, but not in a TARDIS way—in an intense/confusing/possibly frightening way. A family films themselves while in the the house; that film becomes a documentary; that documentary is turned into a book; that book’s manuscript is discovered by a character who begins reading it… and it’s this book. The character is reading the book that you’re reading, but he finishes it before you.

    If that’s not confusing enough, try decoding the color coordination. The word house (in all of its translations) is colored blue, the word Minotaur is in red—for reasons Mark Z. Danielewski won’t explain. We imagine he’s maniacally laughing at our hopeless confusion in his home right now. If you finish the book and want even more (we can basically guarantee you will), you can pick up the two companion pieces: The Whalestoe Letters, a series of letters written from one character of House of Leaves to another; and a full-length album called Haunted by Danielewski’s sister, Poe.

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    2. S.

    When J.J. Abrams conceives of a book, it would be a crime if it weren’t meta as all-get-out. (For chrissakes, it tells you “Do Not Open This Book” on the cover!) The video below is an excellent tour through Abrams and Doug Dorst‘s innovative novel, which is a book-within-a-book: What you hold in your hands is a decades-old library book filled with scribblings from two students pondering over the identity of its reclusive author; plus, it’s filled with letters, postcards, and photos adding more layers to the mystery.

    If ever you want to take a break from this unwieldy read—seriously, don’t risk reading it on the subway unless you’re sitting down—you can also follow along on the mysterious website Radio Straka and other fansites.

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    3. Artemis Fowl

    Ever notice the little rune-like markings running along the bottom of the pages in the Artemis Fowl books? Sharp-eyed readers picking up on the letters written in the fictional languages of Gnommish and Centaurean are treated to secret messages about demon survival tips, video diary updates, and pleas for help. Once you crack the codes (or if you crowdsource for help), you’ll feel just as savvy as Artemis.

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    4. Tree of Codes

    If you were befuddled by the price tag (ranging from $40 to over $200, based on where you look) on Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Tree of Codes, you probably didn’t open the book. Equal parts sculpture and reading material,Tree of Codes is a die-cut book that reveals layers of words (visible through rectangular holes) on multiple pages at any given time. The experience is visual as much as it is literary, although it is crafted entirely from an existing text: The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz. Thus, Safran Foer showcases an expert eye for deletion: In carving out negative spaces in The Street of Crocodiles, he leaves behind a story that is his own.

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    5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1)

    A whole article could be written about experiencing Harry Potter outside of the books. With the movies, theme parks, cookbooks, and wizard rock, you never have to leave the wizarding world. However, if you want the ultimate“beyond the book” experience, you might want to sign up for Pottermore.

    Pottermore is a game, social network, and fansite all rolled into one. By rereading through the books, fans can discover messages and background information left there by J.K. Rowling herself. Discover what wand cores say about their owners, and how Professor McGonagall lost her first love. Users can also make potions, cast spells, and get sorted. Like any good social media site, you can even post a status and communicate with your friends. With a store and blog included, it’s like you’re a student at Hogwarts.

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    6. A Visit from the Goon Squad

    Presumably, when you start reading a novel, you usually don’t expect to be interrupted by a PowerPoint slideshow. But that’s exactly what happens in Jennifer Egan‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. Occurring partway through the novel, the slideshow catalogues character Alison Blake’s relationship with her parents and her brother, Lincoln. It also takes on the subject of pauses in rock’n’roll music—something with which Lincoln is obsessed. If you’re going to read a hard copy of the book in public, be prepared to get some funny looks from strangers as you hold the book sideways to read the slideshow.

    You can view the slideshow in its entirety (with audio!) and in color on the author’s website.

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    7. The 39 Clues Book 1: The Maze Of Bones

    With a title like The 39 Clues, this middle grade series had to have some sort of meta mystery beyond what was just on the page. Like Pottermore, you can follow along with the world of The 39 Clues by signing up online: Play missions, crack codes, and delve deeper into the mysteries set into place by Rick Riordan, Gordan Korman, and the rest of the series’ writers. Don’t forget to pick up your set of Clue Cards to get you started.

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    8. Rhythm Science

    Paul D. Miller (also known as DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid) broke a lot of the rules when he wrote Rhythm Science. First, there’s the enhanced tactile experience: The book has a hole drilled through the middle so that it resembles a compact disc. Miller divides his writings into an A Side and a B Side to mimic a vinyl record, and the book comes with a CD.

    Second, there’s the text itself: Miller’s prose is often casual and more resembles free-verse poetry than formal academic writing. Ultimately, Miller makes a crucial observation about sampling culture by allowing form to mirror content: He writes, “Today, the voice you speak with may not be your own.” The way in which Rhythm Science is written and formatted only serves to underscore and validate this point.


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