#ELRBOOKS: Book reviews by Alan Bigelow

Originally published on WordPress on the 8th Novemeber 2018.

In the last six years the ELR has published different formats of interviews from the actual reviews of works of electronic literature, featured interviews published in other web sites, promotional interviews for events and a series centered on a specific topic like digital publishing.

To shift the attention from the digital context and to focus on print literature instead, the ELR has created a new series entirely dedicated to print literature called #ELRBOOKS.

Many scholars of the e-literature community have participated in a survey about their personal favourite books which deal with topics related to electronic literature or more in general to digital culture and cyber culture, but also print literature that feature characteristics of works of electronic literature namely hypertextual structure, multilinear plot, multiple authors or interactivity. Moreover, the series also includes theoretical books considered important, emblematic and innovative that they would suggest to somebody who is new to electronic literature.

The series #ELRBOOKS aims to show the links between print literature and electronic literature and the continuation of some literary features of print literature in electronic literature.

The ELR is happy to start the book reviews with Alan Bigelow, Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Medaille College, Buffalo, NY USA. In his review Bigelow includes works of different literature genres and with different writing styles in a concise way. Interestingly, as Bigelow suggests, conciseness can also be regarded as an important literary feature.

Good read!

Alan Bigelow: Five books that I consider important, emblematic, and innovative and would suggest to somebody who is interested in writing their own creative work in electronic literature:

BOOK#1: Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy

This is a book I not only loved while I was reading it the first time (the year after graduating from college), but later, when I began to write elit. Sterne’s experiments with images, layout of text on the page, and his overall ability to change course and suddenly do the most unexpected is what, to a large degree, informs my practice today.

If you are new to writing your own creative work in electronic literature, read this book first and then ask yourself, “Does anyone in elit today do anything more experimental than what Sterne did three hundred years ago?”

If your answer is no, then you are that much closer to recognizing how the forms we use to tell our stories have been invented before. The only difference is that technology allows us to put those forms into new practice.

BOOK#2: James Joyce, Ulysses (and other works)

I was confounded by Ulysses in college: entranced by its meta-language and intensive details but somewhat overwhelmed by the vast human landscape Joyce portrays. He was a premier experimentalist, and my shock of awakening at what he could do as a writer–with his incredible vocabulary, insights into the human condition, character portrayal, and textual pyrotechnics—reverberates with me to this day.

If you are new to writing your own creative work in electronic literature, consider any of Joyce’s works. They can still teach us how to construct a story.

BOOK#3: Samuel Beckett (any of his works)

In some ways, Samuel Beckett taught me how to write. There is nothing extraneous in his work; every page, paragraph, sentence, word, and punctuation mark has a purpose, and nothing is wasted. His conciseness and conservation of language, where everything has its place and words are always aware of their own limitations, taught me about the compression and efficiency of language that is so necessary for writing on the web.

Beckett was writing for the web before the web was invented.

BOOK#4: Sam Shepard (any of the plays he wrote)

Sam Shepard was a multimedia artist for the stage. He knew how to interpret and portray character and plot through not just dialog but lighting, audio, projections, props, and scenery. He was a master of theatrical multimedia, and he took his generation to the edge of new media before “new media” was born.

If you are new to writing your own creative work in electronic literature, and want to see how multimedia can effect space (3D or virtual), Shepard might be of some use.

BOOK#5: comics (any)

If you are new to writing your own creative work in electronic literature, look at some comics. They could be the old-fashioned kind in magazines, or graphic novels, or online anime, or TV animations, but they all have something to offer.

Mostly, it’s a conciseness of language and a recognition that text is just one part of a story (the other parts being image and, more recently, audio, video, animation, and so on), and that conciseness of language absolutely requires us to compress language and make it more efficient, to say more with less. How writers use the physical or virtual spaceof comics is instructive to writers on the web.

It’s also the pure energy of plots as they appear in so many comics. The plot is usual simple, with limited characters and straight forward complications, but the plot usually captures us with the need to find out what happens next, to get to the end. Simple as the plot may be, or because it is so simple, we must finish the story.

If you can say this as a writer, that when reading your work, your audience feels an irresistible urge to read it all the way to the end… Congratulations. That is probably the highest compliment any reader could offer.