Top Ergodic Literature Beginner Recommendations

For those of you who haven’t heard of ergodic literature, it’s “a term borrowed from physics to describe open, dynamic texts such as the I Ching or Apollinaire’s calligrams, with which the reader must perform specific actions to generate a literary sequence. ” – Goodreads

In other words, ergodic literature makes you do more work than just reading text on a page. It usually involves puzzles, re-reading twice over, mirroring text, jumping to random pages, and much more to fully uncover the story that is being told.

I will say that even though these pieces of literature are gorgeous and are pieces of art, they can be a little intimidating when it comes to actually reading them. But do not fret, I will recommend 3 of my favorite ergodic literature pieces, going from easier to harder to read/understand, and some tips to make the journey a bit more enjoyable, at least in my opinion.

Before I go into the details of the books, I just want to preface by saying that there is no right or wrong way to read these books. There are many ways to dissect these books, which is another beauty of ergodic literature. These are just ways I have found easy for myself.

Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer

Tree of Codes is the story of an enormous last day of life — as one character's life is chased to extinction, Foer multi-layers the story with immense, anxious, at times disorientating imagery, crossing both a sense of time and place, making the story of one person’s last day everyone’s story. Inspired to exhume a new story from an existing text, 

Jonathan Safran Foer has taken his "favorite" book, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, and used it as a canvas, cutting into and out of the pages, to arrive at an original new story told in Jonathan Safran Foer's own acclaimed voice.

Tree of Codes contains approximately 139 pages with cutouts on each page. Each cutout allows readers to see what’s on the other page, where multiple pages can string a sentence together. But in reality, the author wants the reader to read the words that are displayed on each singular page. Even though this defeats the purpose of reading through the book and feeling the disorientating feeling of your last day of life, a simple trick is to put a piece of paper behind the page you are going to read, that way you can see the words you are meant to be reading. Or you could bend the book back so that you can only see one page at a time, then you can still feel the frustrating feelings Foer was trying to make readers feel.

S. by J.J Abrams and Doug Dorst

One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace, and desire.     

A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown.    

THE BOOK: Ship of Theseus, the final novel by a prolific but enigmatic writer named V. M. Straka, in which a man with no past is shanghaied onto a strange ship with a monstrous crew and launched onto a disorienting and perilous journey.   
THE WRITER: Straka, the incendiary and secretive subject of one of the world’s greatest mysteries, a revolutionary about whom the world knows nothing apart from the words he wrote and the rumours that swirl around him.    

THE READERS: Jennifer and Eric, a college senior and a disgraced grad student, both facing crucial decisions about who they are, who they might become, and how much they’re willing to trust another person with their passions, hurts, and fears.      

S. , conceived by filmmaker J. J. Abrams and written by award-winning novelist Doug Dorst, is the chronicle of two readers finding each other in the margins of a book and enmeshing themselves in a deadly struggle between forces they don’t understand. It is also Abrams and Dorst’s love letter to the written word.

Within this singular book, there are many things that must be read, like the fictitious book, Ship of Theseus by the fictitious author V.M. Straka, the margin notes, the inserts, the footnotes, and the foreword. I found that reading all of these at once, as a whole, was quite confusing and a bit hard to comprehend. But after reading this book in multiple different ways, I found that the one that made the most sense without making me feel confused, this way being reading the fictitious book “Ship of Theseus” as an entirely separate book. Then with a second passing, I would move to reading the margin notes and inserts. I found that I needed to understand the fictitious book before I read the annotations, to fully understand the story and meaning behind the annotations.

Griffin & Sabine by Nick Bantock

"Griffin: It's good to get in touch with you at last. Could I have one of your fish postcards? I think you were right—the wine glass has more impact than the cup. —Sabine   

But Griffin had never met a woman named Sabine. How did she know him? How did she know his artwork? Who is she? Thus begins the strange and intriguing correspondence of Griffin and Sabine. And since each letter must be pulled from its own envelope, the reader has the delightful, forbidden sensation of reading someone else's mail. Griffin & Sabine is like no other illustrated novel: appealing to the poet and artist in everyone and sure to inspire a renaissance in the fine art of letter-writing, it tells an extraordinary story in an extraordinary way."

Giffin & Sabine by Nick Bantock is a simpler type of ergodic literature, much simpler than the previous two I mentioned, as all the reader needs to do is analyze each page and letters sent between the two characters. There is no specific way/order that it needs to be read in for the reader to understand the message behind the character interactions. The reader simply progresses through the book and will learn everything that the author allows, no hidden messages in the footnotes or inserts.

Now before you all start asking “What about House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski?? I thought you loved that book???” Yes, House of Leaves is by far one of my favorite pieces of ergodic literature, but not one I would recommend for those of you just getting into the art of this type of literature. From my personal experience, House of Leaves was my first piece of ergodic literature, and if I am being honest, I was quite intimidated and scared to even start the book. I have many friends who pick up House of Leaves and get too overwhelmed by the style of it, and eventually end up dropping the book and staying away from ergodic literature in general. This is not the goal that I want for you all, as ergodic literature (even if it’s not for everyone), is a beautiful piece of art that will change the way you read books. I believe everyone should try it out once, and these are just three recommendations to get you started and see if you enjoy this type of literature.

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