We are so excited to welcome PSU Professor Matt Livengood and his introductory installment of what we hope will be a regular feature on Command Save. CommandREAD will showcase Matt's musings on the books and articles that he has been reading. He thinks you should read them too.
When it comes to reading, I tend to prefer non-fiction. I really enjoy learning about the world we're in via the words of a writer who uses his or her actual experiences, discoveries, and ideas to share observations and to offer new insight. Good non-fiction provides this, certainly. However, excellent works of fiction also can make such offerings to the reader, shedding new light on what and who and how we are. Whereas non-fiction strives to inform us through objective means, the best examples of fiction teach us about our humanness by repackaging the experiences of being alive in more artful ways. And, truthfully, when you find yourself in the midst of a really good story, the ride is like nothing that can be found in factual discussions.
THE RAW SHARK TEXTS, by Steven Hall (Cannongate, 2007), is the most recent book I've finished, and it does everything — and maybe more — that I'd want a work of fiction to do. It was recommended to me by a good friend (thanks, Penn) and as soon as I read the teaser on the back cover, I knew that — at the very least — I'd enjoy the premise:
A man wakes up on the floor of a room, not knowing who he is or where he is or how long he's been there. There's a note. He reads it.
First things first, stay calm.
If you are reading this, I'm not around anymore. Take the phone and speed dial 1. Tell the woman who answers that you are Eric Sanderson. The woman is Dr Randle. She'll understand what has happened and you will be able to see her straight away. Take the car keys and drive the yellow Jeep to Dr Randle's house. If you haven't found it yet, there's a map in the envelope — it isn't too far and it's not hard to find.
Dr Randle will be able to answer all your questions. It's very important that you go straight away. Do not pass go. Do not explore. Do not collect two hundred pounds.
The house keys are hanging from a nail on the banister at the bottom of the stairs. Don't forget them.
With regret and also hope,
The First Eric Sanderson."
So Eric begins the process of figuring out… WTF, basically, and the situation quickly gets more interesting. Letters from Eric to Eric start appearing regularly in the post. He's instructed to memorize a list of personal facts from some stranger's life for use "in case of an emergency." There's a locked door in his flat, to which he has no key. And then one night, after months of trying to reconstruct some semblance of a routine, normal life, there's an… uhh… 'incident' that occurs in his flat which is just plain bizarre. And disconcerting. And terrifying.
Okay, so amnesia is nothing novel as far as story-telling tropes are concerned. We've all seen "Memento." And there's no shortage of mysterious, suspenseful plot lines out there. So, why am I writing about this book on this site?
I'm glad you asked.