Pavilion and the maze as metaphor

When I was younger, I got lost in the works of Jorge Luis Borges. In my hubris, I assumed I “got” him in a way that would let me use the tools of literary study to recognize patterns, symbols, and themes. His hermetic prose held secrets that I thought I had unlocked in my sophomoric self-satisfaction. I assured myself that knowing Borges’ favorite subjects, like mazes and infinite libraries, are actually metaphors for the text itself was a revelation that only I and a few select others could hold dear. I was wrong, of course. Not about the obvious readings,…


Quote, an upcoming literary RPG about destroying knowledge

Ignorance is bliss, or so the clichés say. It’s true that there’s a certain appeal to that innocence, but we as a society have decided that proverb is mostly bullshit, right? Knowledge, for lack of a better motivational poster, is power, and those who champion the cause of the opposite are generally suspected to have ulterior motives in mind. That’s what makes Fahrenheit 451 (1953) such an enduringly captivating dystopia; that’s why shelves are built down into the ground in the streets of Berlin on the sites of book-burnings; that’s why modern-day arguments of censorship carry so much weight. We like knowing…

Universal Harvester

John Darnielle’s next novel is a horror story about fragmented video tapes

In the music he writes for the Mountain Goats, John Darnielle tells intensely specific stories. One song describes a breakfast of boiled peanuts the morning a parther leaves for good. Another, from the band’s most recent album, Beat the Champ (2015), mournfully describes a wrestling match in which the loser has his head shaved with a “cheap electric razor from the Thrifty down the street.” Darnielle’s first novel, Wolf in White Van (2014), is layered thick with references that situate it not just in a particular time or place, but inside a particular cultural niche, full of Conan the Barbarian comics and b-movie…


New book lets you play your way through Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has been adapted to numerous genres and mediums since the 18th century and finally we might have an adaptation to rival Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film, Romeo + Juliet. The classic story has now been adapted into a choose-your-own-adventure book by Ryan North, aptly titled Romeo and/or Juliet. North is creator of Dinosaur Comics, and the writer behind Marvel’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and was first inspired to tackle Shakespeare’s work with To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure. That project was crowdfunded through Kickstarter, and by its conclusion had become the highest-funded publishing project ever. Romeo and/or Juliet serves as the sequel…

device 6 header

Literature games and the future of book publishing

It was called “the end of days” for literature. Bold doomsaying letters across headlines predicted that with the financial crisis of 2007-2008, the era of books would meet its untimely end, and the larger publishing world would be rendered obsolete. But traditional books didn’t die—they simply fled into the digital world and returned with new forms, the technologically-savvy ebook and digital story app. The need to diversify the medium that arose during this era is, in part, what may have kept sales of books rising through the apocalyptic flames. It pushed against any stubbornness in the publishing world and proved…


High-Rise; a very British psychopathology

The first time I saw the Barbican Estate in London I was entranced. The layered terraces of pitted concrete, the crisscrossing walkways, those monolithic towers that seemed—as with Petra or Al-Hijr—like they might have been carved out of natural stone. It is rare, especially in a city like London, as layered and complex as a geological event, to walk into such a large space that feels so designed, so ordained. Yet, setting foot in those 20 acres of roughened concrete, I somehow felt that I was stepping into an idea, or an ideal, and out of reality entirely. Even now,…

the pit and the pendulum

An Edgar Allan Poe classic is now a game

Sign up to receive each week’s Playlist e-mail here! Also check out our full, interactive Playlist section. The Pit and the Pendulum (PC) BY PAPER PIRATES AND SOKOLAB Given that Edgar Allan Poe focused on sensation to communicate the terror of torture in his 1842 short story The Pit and the Pendulum, it would have been wise to further etch that out in the videogame version. In particular, the hissing of a swinging blade as it descends upon the narrator’s flesh could have been realized with actual sound, yet it is lacking in this digital adaptation. Forgoing that, what this game does…

the internet

New website celebrates stories inspired by pre-broadband internet

Described as “a literary/graphic project…built by three artists with strong interests in screens”, websafe2k16 seeks to provide a platform for memories of a pre-broadband Internet. Using the Web Safe color palette, and its 216 colors, as a point of reference, the project consists of 216 authors who write 216 words each, inspired by a specific color in the web safe range. Beginning 2/16/16, one piece is published daily. The swatches and text of the site provide a homogeneous backdrop for the varied experiences of the authors. The site is a sparse visual landscape filled with odd and unexpected artefacts Old internet pages are…


An upcoming puzzle game tasks you with decoding classic literature

In the world of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451, books have been outlawed and are burned en masse by the state, only kept in small collections by the occasional revolutionary. Instead of reading, the majority of people spend their free time in “entertainment parlors,” rooms lined with massive screens that constantly broadcast Dora the Explorer-style call-and-response programs meant to elicit the illusion of interactivity. It’s a pointed premise, conceived during the early years of the television’s rise to prominence in the American household. It also reflects a constant theme in Bradbury’s work: that with advances in technology, culture tends…