It happened first when Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and it is happening again with the publication (by the same small Nova Scotia press) of Stephen Marche’s Love and the Mess We’re In: The Canadian literary avant-garde is boldly retreating to a bucolic past where paper is sacred and digital technology makes no impression whatsoever.

“This is a book you cannot read on a Kindle,” the author says proudly, brandishing the artifact in question during an interview in Toronto. “It’s not possible to do. This is a physical book, and the experience of holding it in your hands is integral to its reality.”

The thing that makes Marche’s third novel so resistant to digitization is its form. Between the covers is a poignant, fractured narrative of adultery and madness that is sometimes laid out in parallel columns like a script, sometimes in typographic patterns like concrete poetry, and sometimes like flowing waves set sideways. Designed by Andrew Steeves of Gaspereau Press, it revives the kind of black-and-white formal experimentation that flourished in the dying days of hot type 50 years ago – as does the unconventional, non-linear text, which picks up where the experimenters at Coach House Press left off in 1973.

Read the full article …

Source: Globe and Mail 


  1. What worries me about this is that their justification revolves around treating the book as an art object. Fine, there’s an argument for that. But what they can’t do is argue from the value of the words themselves – which is what books are supposed to be for in the first place. If you’re treating books as works of art and forgetting their content, then you’re no friend to the written word.

  2. Give it time, if you asked Gutenberg to do the same back when the book press came out, he would not have been able to do it either. You will probably soon be able to create eBooks for the kindle that support “bad typesetting”.

    But to be frank, the author is barking up the wrong tree, pun intended. There is an awful lot of things you cannot do with a paper book that is possible with e.g. HTML5. Creating interactive stories, such as is currently being undertaken by the project.

    So if the author really thinks that it is a thing to be proud of then so be it.

    Personally I actually find the excerpt in the picture unappealing, go play with some hipsters.

  3. My iPad would display that book just fine. Yawn.

    Slightly relatedly, look up the book A Humament. Started as a paper art project, now an awesome iPad app. Very nicely done in both cases.

  4. There’s nothing in the example that couldn’t be done digitally, but why do it? That kind of typography gives me a headache and pulls me out of the story. If the author needs a gimmick like that it tells me that his story is not strong and/or compelling enough.

  5. @Scott…Amen! I want to relax and enjoy the story and to do that I have to be immersed in the words, not trying to figure out how to read them.

  6. @Scott

    Authors have always wanted to experiment with typography. John Donne wrote a few poems that made shapes; Faulkner wanted the text of The Sound and the Fury printed in three colors to represent the different timelines. Some authors think outside the scope of story; sometimes for good effect, other times not. And an iPad color version of Faulkner would be an awesome digital book.

  7. Sometimes, it isn’t just about words. A book can be a ‘transport system’ for more than words. A book is really just a “container” for thoughts and ideas expressed in multiple ways.

    It is too bad that these writers seem to think that their art can only exist on a physical, paper media, when, as others have mentioned, there are ways to reproduce them electronically.

    But then, people still paint on canvas even though computers exist.

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