Readers of avant-garde literature are flipping over the latest experimental wrinkle in fiction. Inspired by the narrative hijinx of such post-modern stylists as the late David Foster Wallace, and Mark Danielewski (whose Only Revolutions asks the reader to rotate the book while reading), a bold new breed of writers and publishers are literally overturning the literary scene with what may be the most dramatic re-purposing of traditional prose since Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy: inversive fiction, or upside-down books.
Although the tropes and conventions of these new topsy-turvy tomes are similar to and in many cases identical with more traditional — or “right-side-up” — books, they are framed in an entirely new way that places radical demands on the reader. “Inverted literature is certainly not everyone’s cup of fur,” remarks professor emeritus Duns C. Penwiper of the Stanislaw Lem Institute for Narratological Science in Cheney. “These stories place great demands on the reader, requiring them to learn what is in effect a completely new language — a language that is, as one might say, both upside-down and backwards.”
One might think that such abstruse belletristic excercises would remain the exclusive province of a small coterie of literati, but the upside-down book craze has become a huge phenomenon with twenty-something readers. The reason may well be what Dr. Smedley Force of the Information School at the Unversity of Washington calls inverted literature’s “secret weapon,” access. “No great expertise is required for converting even the most staid, conventional story into a radical work of literary inversion. A child could do it. Indeed, one may presume that many children have, albeit unsuspectingly.” What is more, upside-down books are available in a wide variety of formats. “No special software is needed, and most devices allow the reader to create upside-down books with ease.” Adds Force, “I hear text inversion is not iPhone compatible, though I expect there will be an application soon.”
Of course, in tough economic times, we at The Seattle Public Library understand that many readers may balk at investing money in something so strange and unfamiliar. That is why our entire collection of books and periodicals in many different languages is now available in both right-side-up and upside-down formats, absolutely free! Just check with your friendly librarian, and ask them how to view an item upside-down, and we’ll be happy provide you with a brief tutorial. We may also be able to help you find upside-down book groups in the area, and provide you with upside-down literary criticism and discussion questions. Our seasoned reader’s advisors can even suggest just the right reading to match your taste, mood and preferred angle of incline.
Be sure to join us next April when we explore the weird world of backwards audiobooks: is Satan in the details?