Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Is S by J.J. Abrams the One Ring for nerds or is it just the biggest money grab in literature for this Christmas Season?

The book called simply "S" written by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. If you've never heard of it until today,
then maybe you're a narcissist and should look beyond yourself once in a while. The world isn't always
about you, you know? :).
I have to admit, the marketing behind "S" is unabashedly cool. The book trailer is perhaps one of the finest ever produced (embedded below and with over 2 million views), which is worthy of the likes of someone who makes his living pleasing nerds with special effect laden extravaganzas featuring edgy and compelling stories. For one, "S" is only one letter. Anyone that hears it that's not in the know instantly asks..."What do you mean? Is that a book?" Why yes it is. And second, it comes in a beautiful black slipcover: a distinguishing trait usually reserved for only the most successful authors after a career of writing best sellers. But J.J. doesn't need to be known as a writer who sells books. These days, authors dream of only Hollywood. Having someone that's already conquered Hollywood turn to the arguably banal medium of print is something that the editors of the Big Houses would fall over themselves to acquire. So yeah, it received the best treatment possible.
So whether you're a fan or not, Director of Star Trek, Director of Star Wars, science-fiction front man are all titles that J.J. Abrams can lay claim to. And starting today, he can add "novelist" to his list. As writers, we should all admire J.J. Abrams for the king-sized storyteller that he really is. And even catching his eye for a moment with anything we've written might be the single greatest moment in any fiction writer's career (and that's saying a lot since your career could last forty years or more). Imagine a nod from the likes of J.J. Abrams: it would give you bragging rights for decades. As a sixty year-old you could say, "J.J. Abrams once entertained making one of my stories into a short film. Alas it fell through, but I was this close." People would still congratulate you because J.J. is that BIG of a deal.

So am I going to buy "S"?
A new book designed to look like a well-used old book. Interesting, eh?
I love the idea of the margin notes. All the interesting stuff is always in the
margins. I learned that from medieval scriveners who filled the margins of
sacred texts with all kinds of thought provoking eye candy.
I don't know. I haven't yet. But I feel a really strong compulsion to go to Barnes and Noble first thing after work and pick up a copy. And I'm not really sure why, because (other than being written by J.J. Abrams) it really is more of a conversation piece than a manifesto of all things so impossibly cool that they cannot be spoken (much like Voldemort's name). For example, I could totally see myself going to my dinner group, whipping it out, and instantly being crowned "King Nerd" by saying, "OMG HAVE YOU GUYS GOT J.J.'S NEW BOOK YET? IT'S FRICKIN' AWESOME!" and then holding it up as if we were all transported to Middle Earth, and I'd just found the One Ring. The best fun would be showing all the cool scribbles in the margins, but not letting people get too close a look because (let's face it) knowledge is power. It could even be great flipping through the pages and laughing out loud with the intent to annoy those who don't have a copy of the book. Puerile? So what. Men can be very childish. Just look at congress and you'll find a whole group of children holding their breath when they don't get their way.

So what's in this book that has a title only one letter long?

Not many people know, and that's just like J.J., is it not? That's the hook that brings you back. That's why LOST was so successful. He's a master of withholding information and frustrating people. A review posted on USA Today said it was filled with paranoia, conspiracy theory, love, and mystery. But there's also (apparently) way too much going on in the narrative (another J.J. trait).

For the bargain savvy book hunter looking for an excuse, "S" has two books in one! The reason for this is that Mr. Abrams wanted "S" to be a celebration of "the book as an object." To elaborate, here's a bit from an expose printed in The New York Times:
Inside a black slipcover stamped with the title, there’s an old library edition of a novel titled “Ship of Theseus,” published in 1949 by a certain V. M. Straka. The author and novel are the fictional creations of Mr. Abrams and Mr. Dorst, but the book’s edge-worn spine, labeled with a faded Dewey decimal sticker, is scuffed, and its corners dented. In used-book selling parlance, the condition of “Ship of Theseus” might be rated “good,” were it not for the tens of thousands of words tattooed in the margins of its yellowed pages by at least two different hands, both in pencil-lead gray and a riot of inks: black, blue, red, orange, purple and green.
Tucked among the pages, readers will find handwritten letters and notes, a college newspaper clipping, a purple mimeographed telegram, photocopied book pages, postcards, an old photograph, a map scrawled on a coffee shop napkin, and even a throwback decoder ring.
So basically, the fun of "S" is having the book itself; to physically hold it and stroke its cover saying, "My preciousss." Okay, maybe that goes a bit far, but you get the picture. I guess I have only one question: Is S by J.J. Abrams the One Ring for nerds, or is it just the biggest money grab in literature for this Christmas season? Ultimately and somewhat unfortunately, I think this is the "true" fun of "S": that it's going to make coffers overflow with coins (but they won't be your coffers). And who doesn't like the sound of a register ringing when you're the seller and not the buyer?

Well played J.J., well played.


  1. Everything else he touches turns to gold, so why not?
    Abrams can almost make my books into movies anytime.
    I admit I wasn't taken by del Toro's attempt at writing fiction though. If you pick it up, let us know what you thought of it when you finish.

  2. Ugh, that sounds way too precious for me.

  3. Never heard of him, I'm afraid. And not because I live in a narcissistic bubble. Or maybe I do...

    Anyway, it's frustrating not knowing what the book is about. Silly actually.

  4. JJ wrote a book? I saw the teaser for that when it popped up a few months ago and had no idea what in the world that was supposed to be about. I didn't know it was a novel.

    I have a love hate thing with JJ. He makes stunning movies and really gets the human drama aspect of storytelling - probably the most important thing - but sometimes he's shown some plotting problems, or in the case of Lost, a lack of interest in how things end.

    Interestingly enough, my cousin's boss is married to JJ's sister (I think I got that right). So he's pretty much family I guess.

  5. I must be a narcissist then. I had a sneaking suspicion, but now I have confirmation. Thanks for opening my eyes Oh Wise One, I'll have to pick it up :)

  6. I would not have known about this book if I had not read your blog. Not because I am unaware of the world, but because I'm doing other stuff.

    Maybe it will be good? My husband would love it.

  7. There was a time when I was a book addict and I might have purchased this one, but I've downsized my library and rarely make purchases anymore. I've moved too much and books are so darn heavy.

  8. I'm unconvinced. As Rusty said, he often leaves shows unfinished (Lost, Alias, Fringe) because he loses interest before he gets there. I would hate to read the book, have the first 2/3-3/4 be awesome and have the ending just be sort of tacked on because he was finished with the story before the story was finished.

  9. The problem with JJ is that he can't do endings. Always comes up short in that regard, so don't have faith in him as a novelist. Can you imagine reading all the way to the end and finding out it was all a dream? I wouldn't put it past him.


  10. Well. I'm narcissistic. But will totally have to check this out. ;)

  11. Great hype, ingenious! Good luck to him! Especially if the rumor changes to S stands for SEX! LOL

  12. Yep, you caught me. I'm a terrible narcissist. I had not heard of this (yet I'm a big Abrams fan, so what does that tell you?).

    I miss my nerd card. I used to think I was one, but I have been shown otherwise.

  13. Might be a gift for my impossible to buy for football coaching/nerdy oldest son.

  14. I had no idea JJ had written a novel. But as lover of books (the kind that has pages and you hold in your hand), I like that it's printed and library-style beaten-up. Some books are works of art, and I want to see if S is one of them.