From time to time, as I tell people about this project, I have a conversation which goes roughly as follows:
ME: I’m printing a book, here are some pictures of what I’m up to
THEM: It seems to be lots of different bits of things not joined together
ME: Yes, they will be in a box
THEM: That’s not really a book, is it?
ME: It’s an unbound book.
Setting aside Pessoa’s penchant for referring to The Book of Disquiet as a book, and the fact that “it” spent a good proportion of the last century in a box, it occurs to me that, save for the existence of a few special books, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that a book could exist unbound in this fashion.
An example I picked up at random in a bookshop in Chicago some years ago, and which I enjoyed enormously, is Salt Creek Anthology by Jason Fisk which uses the form to reflect stories happening in a community, how each person’s story is linked, and unlinked, to that of the people they live with (and near): no one character is the centre of these stories but each story is linked (Fisk presents the novel as unbound pages in a box and also in a series of linked hypertext documents; I’m fixated enough on the physical form of the book to be primarily interested in the former.)
Another I came across when it was published in an English edition a few years ago is “Composition No. 1” by Marc Saporta, a marvellous piece of work.
More famous, in the UK at least, is probably “The Unfortunates” by B S Johnson, a novel I love completely. In an article about B S Johnson which I turned up when looking for a link to paste in here, Jonathan Coe said:
“…thoughts and memories, it seemed to Johnson, do not arrive in an orderly fashion, sequentially, the way one is obliged to present them in a book. They jostle randomly for precedence in the loose, unstructured consciousness. He felt that there should be a way of making a novel reflect this. And so he decreed that his next novel-which he called “The Unfortunates”-should not be published in the usual way, with consecutive pages stitched together at the spine, to be read one after another. Instead, he divided it into sections, of between one and 16 pages, and insisted that his publishers present these sections loosely, in a small box, so that the reader could shuffle them and read them in any order they wanted: a version, perhaps, of the experiments with chance procedures which John Cage had attempted a few years earlier.”
It seems to me that the same can be said of “The Book of Disquiet”; it’s not just that Pessoa didn’t place the text into a final order, it’s that I rather like the disordered wander around Soares’s ideas and thoughts. What’s more, over the years I have tended to browse “The Book of Disquiet”: rather than read it from cover to cover I dip in. I like the thought of making “dipping in” more literal.