Goodreads Review: S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

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I bought this book when I was living on the Isle of Iona for 2 months. Iona is a six-mile island, off the West coast of Mull (which is a larger island, off the West coast of Scotland). It takes 8 hours to travel from Iona to Edinburgh. It took many more than 8 hours for this book to travel from the mainland to Iona.



My friend T. recommended the book to me for its marginalia, for its blatant role as J. J. Abram’s love-letter to books. Doug Dorst, I am unfamiliar with, but I was willing to give him a try. I ordered the book on Amazon, and waited. I ordered a few other books as well, from other sellers. And waited.

The other books came. I waited. S. was ellusive.

I contacted the sellers.

Where is my book?

“Coming,” they said. “Just wait,” they said.

Eventually, they admitted it was lost.


They sent a new copy, which arrived 2 days later. It only takes 2 days for a book to come from the mainland to Iona, when that book is in a hurry, when those sellers are in trouble.


It was wrapped so carefully, and the package was heavy. This book has heft. It came in a brown envelope, which opened onto bubble-wrap, which held the clear-wrapped book inside — at least, the box which holds the book. I had to break a seal. It was all very official. More than official. It was adventurous.


When I was younger, I fell in love with marginalia. It was a magical conversation between unknown elements: a book that cannot be changed, an author that cannot speak back, a reader that cannot be silent. I read Mortimer Adler’s essay How to Mark a Book, and made it my manifesto. When I got S. this spring, I carried the book around with me, all over the island. I was crawling out of my skin with excitement. I showed it to everyone.


My roommate Cassidy was from Canada. She and I became friends by virtue of the fact that we were accidentally reading the same book. She showed up on Iona, moved into the room, and started reading John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. She had brought a copy with her. I had left most of my books at home, but had found Steinbeck downstairs in the volunteer house’s communal bookshelves. When she told me what she was reading, I didn’t believe her. I made her hold up the book to make sure she hadn’t stolen mine.

I had told her all about S. from the beginning, when T. first introduced me to it, when I ordered it, when the order got lost. She was the first person I showed the book to, when it actually arrived. We were in the Abbey refectory after dinner. I turned away for a second, and when I looked back, the book was gone. I panicked, glared around, and eventually caught on to the joke. Cassidy had ‘borrowed’ it — just moving it out of my reach into her bag. She stood there grinning like the prank was the best of the century. She hadn’t even held it for 5 minutes when I demanded it back.


Later in our room in Cul Shuna, Cassidy broached the topic.

“Emma, I know this is kind of like asking to play with someone else’s Christmas present before them…”

Go on, Cous Cous.

“… but can I read S. while you’re not reading it?”

My immediate response: absolutely not.

I had chosen not to start delving into S. until after returning to Edinburgh from Iona. I had read the introduction, part of the first chapter, and discovered that I was getting too far in over my head. I was getting lost in the book. It felt really overwhelming and suffocatingly wonderful, like if left to my own devices I could drown before putting the book down. It scared me slightly. I thought, now might not be the time for this. It didn’t mean I wanted anyone else to have the book first.

At the time, I was sleeping with it in my bed. No joke.

But it only took me ten minutes to change my mind. I laid ground rules:
– Don’t take the book outside of the house.
– Don’t let any of the added things fall out of the pages.
– Don’t spill anything or eat anything near it.
– Above all, DO NOT speak to me about the book while you are reading it.

S., from The Guardian

S., from The Guardian

My philosophy for the rules: I wanted my knowledge of the book to be exactly the same as if Cassidy wasn’t reading it. That is: I wanted to know NOTHING.

My philosophy for letting her read it before me: This is clearly a book that deserves to be read.

And I guess that’s the bottom line.


Part 2 to come: When I finally started S...


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How much does one imagine, how much observe? One can no more separate those functions than divide light from air, or wetness from water.

– Elspeth Huxley


A poem can travel far…

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       ‘Presence is something you sense and know, but cannot grasp. It engages us but we can never capture its core; it remains somehow elusive. All the great art forms strive to create living icons of presence. Poets try to cut the line of a poem so that it lives and dances as itself. Poems are some of the most amazing presences in the world. I am always astounded that poems are willing to lie down and sleep inside the flat, closed pages of books. If poems behaved according to their essence, they would be out dancing on the seashore or flying to the heavens or trying to rinse out the secrets of the mountains.

      Reading brings the presence of other times, characters and cultures into your mind. Reading is an intimate event. When you read a great poem, it reaches deep into regions of your life and memory and reverberates back to you forgotten or invisible regions of your experience. In a great poem you find again lost or silent territories of feeling or thought which were out of your reach. A poem can travel far into your depths to retrieve your neglected longing.’

– from Eternal Echoes: Exploring our hunger to belong by John O’Donohue


This blog is a novel…

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I’ve discovered (been directed towards) It’s pretty much great. One of the founders of the site is a fantastic writer (the other contributors are as well), and I stumbled upon her personal blog this morning. A quote from a recent post:

     ‘This blog is a novel about a heroine in her twenties lost in a giant dirty/beautiful city. She’s swallowing hearts and breaking fingers. She’s giving herself daily emotional autopsies and they’re always inconclusive. — She’s excessively maudlin at odd hours and doesn’t know what to do when her shoe breaks on 14th street. 

     Now I’m in California. It’s another chapter, or it’s an Afterword that might never end. The Neverending Afterword.’

– by Riese, posted on This Girl Called Automatic Win


This is the island I love.

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Isle of Iona, 2014

Isle of Iona, 2014

This is Thisby, I think. This is the island I love. I suddenly feel I know everything about the island and everything about me all at the same time, only I know that it will go away as soon as we stop…

… Something wild and old spins inside me, but I don’t have any words.’ (368)

– from The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater



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My Myers-Briggs personality type is an interesting and complex question.
I took the test a few times during my undergraduate career, for psychology classes and for placement within the Resident Advisor program. Each time, my scores oscillated back and forth between being an ENFP and an INFP (introvert/extrovert-intuition-feeling-perception). I was at the point in my life where my personality was evolving from wanting to be in the limelight and the center of attention toward more humble acknowledgment of the value of silence and reflection. I’m not surprised the results changed.

Today’s results are even more interesting. My introverted nature has been fully cemented, but now I seem to be undergoing another, entirely different shift. I took the test and scored INFP — no surprise here until I realized that I had left one question unanswered. The test told me that my “results could be compromised”!! (Clearly no over-reaction there). I went back, answered the question, and my results suddenly shifted to INFJ. Really? I’ve never scored for judgment over perception before in my life. That’s when I realized I must be in the middle of another kind of personality shift, so I read both results closely.

Here are the phrases that resonated in each category:


INFP (The Idealist):

“INFPs never seem to lose their sense of wonder. One might say they see life through rose-colored glasses. It’s as though they live at the edge of a looking-glass world where mundane objects come to life, where flora and fauna take on near-human qualities.”

“INFPs live primarily in a rich inner world of introverted Feeling. Being inward-turning, the natural attraction is away from world and toward essence and ideal. This introversion of dominant Feeling, receiving its data from extraverted intuition, must be the source of the quixotic nature of these usually gentle beings.”

“INFPs, more than other iNtuitive Feeling types, are focused on making the world a better place for people. Their primary goal is to find out their meaning in life. What is their purpose? How can they best serve humanity in their lives? They are idealists and perfectionists, who drive themselves hard in their quest for achieving the goals they have identified for themselves.”

“INFPs are highly intuitive about people. They rely heavily on their intuitions to guide them, and use their discoveries to constantly search for value in life. They are on a continuous mission to find the truth and meaning underlying things. Every encounter and every piece of knowledge gained gets sifted through the INFP’s value system, and is evaluated to see if it has any potential to help the INFP define or refine their own path in life.”


INFJ (The Protector):

“Beneath the quiet exterior, INFJs hold deep convictions about the weightier matters of life.”

“INFJs have a knack for fluency in language and facility in communication. In addition, nonverbal sensitivity enables the INFJ to know and be known by others intimately.”

“Writing, counseling, public service and even politics are areas where INFJs frequently find their niche.”

“Their amazing ability to deduce the inner workings of the mind, will and emotions of others gives INFJs their reputation as prophets and seers. Unlike the confining, routinizing nature of introverted sensing, introverted intuition frees this type to act insightfully and spontaneously as unique solutions arise on an event by event basis.”

“INFJs are twice blessed with clarity of vision, both internal and external. Just as they possess inner vision which is drawn to the forms of the unconscious, they also have external sensing perception which readily takes hold of worldly objects.”

“As an INFJ, your primary mode of living is focused internally, where you take things in primarily via intuition. Your secondary mode is external, where you deal with things according to how you feel about them, or how they fit with your personal value system.

INFJs are gentle, caring, complex and highly intuitive individuals. Artistic and creative, they live in a world of hidden meanings and possibilities. Only one percent of the population has an INFJ Personality Type, making it the most rare of all the types.”

“INFJs place great importance on having things orderly and systematic in their outer world. They put a lot of energy into identifying the best system for getting things done, and constantly define and re-define the priorities in their lives. On the other hand, INFJs operate within themselves on an intuitive basis which is entirely spontaneous. They know things intuitively, without being able to pinpoint why, and without detailed knowledge of the subject at hand. They are usually right, and they usually know it. Consequently, INFJs put a tremendous amount of faith into their instincts and intuitions. This is something of a conflict between the inner and outer worlds, and may result in the INFJ not being as organized as other Judging types tend to be. Or we may see some signs of disarray in an otherwise orderly tendency, such as a consistently messy desk.”

Ok, forget it. This entire description is me. I was going to keep copying out the points that resonated with me, until I realized this entire page is applicable.

What’s interesting is how the introverted and extroverted qualities flipflop for each case:

INFP: Introverted feeling and sensing; extroverted intuition and thinking.

INFJ: Introverted intuition and thinking; extroverted feeling and sensing.


Now I’m really glad I filled out that last question.



(websites used:)


Vier – Negentig


When I was younger, I never did my homework. I don’t remember getting homework in Britain, but when I moved over to the US in 4th grade, we most certainly had homework, which I most certainly did not ever complete. Both my elementary and middle schools had many ideas to develop this habit in their students: they gave the students daily planners for free, and required the students to copy down all assignments in them…  then required parents to sign them. Eventually, notes went home to parents complaining that their child would grow up to be a delinquent if he/she did not cultivate at least some habit of doing homework. These procedures were to no avail. The system failed me, because I refused to participate in it at all.

I obviously came out okay, but it was no way in thanks to my limited ability to complete nightly assignments.