My seventeen-year-old self was resurrected after discovering Mark Z. Danielewski was coming out with a new book on May 12, 2015. However, it’s not just a single book, but an ambitious series of twenty-seven! Pantheon Books published the first volume of The Familiar in May, to be followed by a new release roughly every three or four months. Danielewski, inspired by the surge in popularity of television dramas, wants The Familiar to evoke that same gritty, needy anticipation through printed text. And, despite the emergence of the ebook as a legitimate alternative to the physical book, you probably won’t be downloading The Familiar to your Kindle:
“The electronic form will be explored, but the reality is that the electronic forms available are not really up to speed with what I’m doing.”
Bold words—and I question them.
Danielewski is best known for his cult favorite, House of Leaves. This ergodic novel is a labyrinth within itself. Deeply invested in design, it features an inconsistent layout, wild typography, many different narratives, and (sometimes) headache-inducing footnotes. As in House of Leaves, Danielewski is pushing boundaries with The Familiar, in which that same interesting take on typography and textual layout is explored alongside full-color illustrations.
All artists choose the media they find most natural, the media through which they are best able to express themselves in the ways they wish. Matisse chose paint. The ladies of Gee’s Bend chose textiles. Brancusi chose stone and plaster. I’ve come to view the ebook as just another medium, but it seems to get a bad rap. It’s become apparent that ebooks aren’t necessarily going to replace the printed book, but there remains that lingering threat of the unknown.
If anything, ebooks are often put on the back burner. Most textual works are created with the tangible book in mind. The concept of digitizing the printed text comes as an afterthought. Therefore, maybe, the ebook hasn’t been explored to fully articulate Danielewski’s intentions for The Familiar. Or, perhaps Danielewski has just found his artistic medium within the tangible publication.
I find it is a matter of preference, not necessarily a matter of one medium being superior to the other. We all love the tangible book; that is why we are part of Ooligan Press! We love the sound of the page turning, the memento to hold, to underline, the beautiful cover, et cetera, but there is something I find exciting about the ebook that has yet to be fully explored. Danielewski may continue pushing the boundaries of physical textual media without ever really delving into the possibilities of ebooks—and that’s fine. We all find comfort in the familiar.