I don’t always discover things when they are shiny and new – sometimes I find out about them (way) after the fact, and when I marvel at them, it’s a little late according to the world’s schedule. (Just ask my friend Carroll, who was both amused and annoyed at how much I loved the Sting song Desert Rose…about 6-7 years after it was played everywhere.) This is probably one of those times. The thing is, it’s still new to me, so my enthusiasm is not affected by the time delay.
I ordered Tree of Codes back in the fall, after reading an insightful review on Brain Pickings, but I didn’t want to feel like I was squeezing it into my schedule, so I held off reading for a while, waiting for a night that I could sit down and focus on it from start to finish. For me it was more a tactile, visual experience to read the book than it was a literary experience. The work has merits in both areas, but personally I wasn’t as hooked into the story as I was into how the pages and layers combined, where the spaces were (and were not), how it felt to turn the pages (kind of fragile, a certain kind of careful lifting required…)
Here are a couple of my favorite pages, isolated, with dark paper behind them (and rather poorly shot, but it was hard to keep the book open!)
And here you can see up close and personal what this amazing book looks like.
The publisher, Visual Editions, is committed to printing “visual writing” – books that don’t just tell a story, but do so with visual dynamism and movement and “love and mischief”. It’s a great credo. You can see them creating a dummy copy of Tree of Codes by hand here (about halfway down the page).
Vanity Fair did an interview with Safran Foer where he discusses the process of creating this literary sculpture. It’s true that he is not alone in his fascination with this approach – all kinds of people have created die-cut (aka “punchy”) books! You can enjoy some others here.
I just came across this guy’s work recently too, a similar idea – but blackout rather than just cut-out. (Actually, I like his stuff so much, he’s getting his own post – Austin Kreon – coming soon.) I guess the difference for me is the blackout is 1 page, where the book is layer upon layer upon layer – you don’t just read it one page at a time. Both fascinating, though!