The booth has been described as a library, a publishing house, and a shrine. None of that is quite right.
From the Wikipedia page for novelist Pia Suarez:
Suarez has described herself several times in the press as "more admired than loved," but she is widely respected within the literary community and has received several prestigious awards and honorary degrees. Novels Suarez published her first novel, Downriver Town , when she was 26. The book had only modest sales, but excellent reviews, as well as winning several awards for a debut novel. Suarez has said that the positive reviews were largely based on the book she was going to write next. "Lots of critics assumed I'd continue to write about the place that I was from but that structurally I'd reign things in. No surprise that my second book was such a disappointment." Her second novel, Born at Birth , was far less autobiographical than her first. It is told in a series of repetitive, looping vignettes that all take place in the offices of a Greenwich, Connecticut hedge fund. Reviews were mixed and sales poor. Suarez caused some controversy when Poets & Writers magazine asked her about the book's disappointing launch and she blamed the expectations that come with her Mexican-American heritage. "People don't expect a Latina writer to write about Wall Street. They tell me I'm an 'intellectual writer' now. And apparently you can't be Latina and intellectual. One adjective per career." Indeed, Suarez is now almost exclusively described as a cerebral or intellectual writer and very rarely as a Latina writer. Some have credited those clarified expectations with the strong sales of her third book, Dogcatcher Catches Dog . In interviews promoting Dogcatcher , Suarez embraced her reputation as a cerebral writer. "I'm not trying to be the kind of writer I read growing up, or even who I admire now, or the kind of writer my publisher wants me to be. I approach writing from a conceptual place, and I've set myself free to pursue that." *
Inside, on a rib-high shelf mounted to one of the walls, is a large book bound in faded blue leather, but without cardboard so that the cover is as pliable as a hotel Bible. It's larger than that, closer to dictionary size, but the paper is much heavier than the onionskin in dictionaries and bibles, and heavier still is the thick chain bound into the spine and bolted to the wall. The pages turn but the book won't leave until someone cuts it free.
A title--Remediated--is stamped in gold on the front cover, though the book almost always lies open. Inside the contents are written in a slanted, almost sprinting hand, perfectly level and neatly justified though the pages are unlined. Lean close enough and you can see the clean edges of the letters. The black ink has not branched into the nearby fibers of the paper and no text bleeds through from the other side of the page.
This is the only copy of Remediated anywhere in the world. The entirety of a press release that appeared on Suarez's own website nearly two years after the publication of Dogcatcher Catches Dog:
Pia Suarez has released her fourth novel, Remediated . The book is free and fully available to the public. The first printing, however, is limited. There is one copy. It can be found at the following coordinates: 35[degrees]f 29", 99[degrees] 48'6".
From an entry on a prominent literary blog posted the day after Suarez's press release:
There's no book out there, folks. And that's nothing to get angry about. I'm seeing all kinds of people calling it a stunt or a hoax. Deep breaths and think about it. Pia Suarez isn't interested in punking you. This is a conceptual project that we should discuss as such.
A series of tweets posted that same day by the editor of an avant-garde literary magazine that regularly publishes Suarez's stories:
You have to be someone we would want to read to pull this off. World is full of novels in drawers no one will ever look at. Pia makes this interesting only in the context of her reputation and her bibliography. I can hear the collective shrug if I tried something like this.
From the transcript of a radio interview one week after Suarez's press release:
HOST: I'm fascinated by this idea of a book that won't be read.
SUAREZ: Well, my publisher's been saying that about all my books, so ... HOST [laughing]: Right. Yes. But this is an order of magnitude different. This book can't be read.
SUAREZ: Hold up. That's not true. Maybe no one will read it. I can concede that. But it can be read. It's available. It's just not available wherever books are sold.
Stepping out of the hard sun and into the soft shade of the booth, it takes a moment for the eyes to adjust. The first thing to appear from the dark, because it is black and white and stark, is the notice stenciled on the wall above the book. It asks that no one copy, photograph, or otherwise disseminate the text of Remediated. "Keep the book here," it concludes.
For over a week after the book was placed and the notice painted, there are no visitors to read either. Dust settles on the concrete floor. Beetle tracks march through the dust. A windstorm erases them. Sand drifts in the corner, raising a tiny dune under the shelf.
And then a pickup truck makes the long trip from the empty horizon to the booth, coming to a stop just a few feet away with a clatter and a sigh. The stilled engine clicks in the heat and then the doors gasp open. Two young men climb out, grinning at each other over the hood, and make their way into the shade of the booth. They turn once, in opposite directions, like enmeshed gears, looking out at the quiet landscape, and then they look together down at the blue book waiting on the shelf.
They read mostly in silence, nodding to each other or saying "mm-hmm" or "okay" when they're ready to turn the page. They are only halfway through when the sun goes down. For a while they stretch out on the floor of the booth, but there's little to hold the heat of the day and soon they're shivering. Somewhere in the dark a coyote yips and bays and the two young men retreat to the cab of their truck.
At first light they unkink themselves and spend the rest of the day reading. They break to eat chips from a tube and shrink-wrapped meat, to pee a few hundred feet away, and to step back and take a picture of the booth, the book visible inside. They finish reading at dusk, by the light of the pickup's headlamps, and, laughing and talking excitedly about what they've just read and what they're going to eat when they get home, they climb into the truck, turn around, and trundle slowly over the dark landscape until their taillights disappear from sight.
A series of tweets posted by the first readers of Remediated as soon as they got back into cell phone range:
#Remediated is real! [Posted with photo.] Not long story or novella. Full novel. Spent last 2 days reading. Slept out there last night. Freeze our asses off. Coyotes (!) howling. Everyone saying just a thought exercise is totally missing the point. That book is out there every night with the cold and the animals.
From a Facebook post tagged to Pia Suarez's author page:
*sigh* Just because the book exists doesn't mean you have to go read it or even that you should. People getting hung up on the plot or whatever are missing the point. Reader response theory. The experience of reading is way more impactful than the content. So classic that the internet doesn't get this.
Post in an online forum discussing Remediated:
I'm good friends with someone in Suarez's family. Can't say who, but very reliable source. They told me the handwritten thing is bullshit. She wrote the whole book on a computer, revising over a bunch of drafts. Once she had it just the way she wanted, THEN she copied it out by hand.
From a critique of Remediated posted on the website of a well-regarded semiotics journal:
Taking Suarez at her word, her new book, stranded in a liminal space that is both Oklahoma desert and unincorporated, unused ranch land, has to be understood as a critique of America's hyper-connected, oversaturated, ephemeral culture. The problem, of course, is that her project is completely reliant on that culture. No one would know about the book without the endless posts, commentaries, and online discussions analyzing it. That digital conversation is what makes the idea itself vital. Suarez is affecting to remove herself from a system on which she's entirely reliant. Without modern connectivity she could never make the point she's trying to make about the supposed sanctity of isolation. *
Late in the day, when the long evening light warms the blue walls, the booth is visible from miles away. Little else stands out in this landscape, though a faint path has been worn into the fragile earth by the cars of the visiting readers. Driving too fast over this terrain raises a cloud of dust that obscures car and driver. Sedans especially, with their low clearance, crawl forward through the last of the day.
License plates now aren't just from Oklahoma, but Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and California, and often there is more than one car angled outside the booth. Those inside reading wave a newcomer in, tell her they've just started, that she should catch up while they have lunch and then they will all read together. But people read at different speeds and many choose to wait. They tap long journal entries into their phone and tell each other they will start doing this more often. They hide in the shade of the booth, reading some other book they've brought with them. They hike out into the desert or find a flat piece of ground and do yoga under the unforgiving sun. They sit in their car with the air conditioning on, listening to the radio and keeping an eye on the fuel gauge.
At night, some people leave no matter how far they are from the end of the book. Those who stay sit together in the dark and talk, sometimes about the story they're reading, but just as often about the trip they've taken to get there, the lives waiting for them back home. They almost all say something about the stars, scattered like luminescent punctuation across the inky night sky.
Facebook post that accompanied the first known image of Remediated, open roughly halfway, two pages of text clearly visible and legible:
It's real. How disappointing. I was convinced there wouldn't be anything inside that booth. Not that I thought that would be a crime or anything, I just wanted to take some pictures and prove it once and for all. I actually thought it was kind of neat. Driving through this remote place where I would never have gone otherwise, I really got into this idea of a lived book rather than a read book. We always talk about reading as an escape, a retreat from life, so it was interesting that here was a book that was the opposite of that. You don't read it, you have the experience of going to it. (And if you're going to have a "conceptual novel," I'd rather have to not actually read it!) But, when I got there, there was this book I had to read. It was less experimental than I expected based on what I'd read about Suarez, but it definitely wasn't worth driving for seven hours and then sleeping in my car. I pretty much skimmed the second half when I started to get really hungry.
From an online magazine's review of Remediated titled "Pia Suarez Pulls Her Punches":
The book is Ms. Suarez's most traditional to date, a relatively linear intergenerational family drama.... It's hard not to feel this conservatism is a kind of apology for the inconvenience of the book's publication. But apology is a sign of artistic compromise, and a project like this falters and stumbles under the weight of compromise. What a missed opportunity that the content of the book doesn't take better advantage of the form. For example, readers who make the trip on the weekend will likely find one or more people already in Ms. Suarez's booth. Often the newcomers will cram in and simply start reading along, mid-novel. When they get to the end, they start at the beginning and read up to the point where they came in. People used to go to movies this way and it's often still how we watch, say, video installations in a museum. The book does nothing, however, to take advantage of this nonlinear way of reading. It's a wasted opportunity to interrogate our modes of consumption. Likewise, aside from being remote, the setting seems completely arbitrary. The book has little or nothing to do with Oklahoma or even the desert. To remove the book to such a lonely spot is intriguing, but not integrating the story with that spot is another victory of timidity over real literary invention. Come on, Ms. Suarez! Dare to take this idea to its most extreme conclusions! Title the book with its GPS coordinates. Write a story that unfolds at that location. At the very least, give us a western. How often can you be certain of what your reader will be looking at as they read your book? *
Coyotes occasionally yowl, but night is quiet in the desert, quiet enough to hear a beetle trying to climb the side of your tent, scratching against the vinyl. The sun rises abruptly, revealing a half dozen tents clustered like landing pods on one side of the booth. On the other side, parked trucks radiate like spokes on a wheel. Traffic peaks like this on the weekends.
A few visitors claim to have read Remediated before, that they have come just to enjoy the company of others making the trip for the first time. Others just never get around to claiming their place in line. They sit in the back of their pickups, sharing warm beer and arguing about how history will view the current prizewinners and critical favorites.
A hundred feet away, there is now a second structure. A shed not much different from the book's booth, though more hurried and less permanent in its construction. An old woman and a young boy sit inside, surrounded by jugs of water, energy bars, chips, flashlights, tarps, the key to the portable toilet just out back. Readers trickle over throughout the day, to conduct their business and retreat back to their tents and radios and books. Mostly they pretend the two locals are not there.
Selected posts from an online forum discussing the logistics and practicalities of reading Remediated:
BookMoth33: Bring a flashlight, sunscreen, plenty of food (dry goods--forget the cooler), LOTS of water. Probably will also want a tent, long-sleeved clothes, a decent hat. g.m.williams: some mexicans have a booth there now where you can buy some basic supplies. Prices not as bad as you might think. shatnerbot: What!? Getting so commercial! Suarez prolly just been trolling for sponsorship deal the whole time. Real artist never would have issued press release with GPS. Should let people find the book on their own. THAT would be sick commentary!
From a feature story profiling some of Suarez's readers and their trip to read Remediated:
Making money off her readers was exactly why this unincorporated township allowed Suarez to use this corner of land in the first place. Local leaders were the only people who read Suarez's new book before she placed it in the booth and as county commissioner Cindy Guerrero says, "The reason we let her put it there was because we read the book and thought it was pretty good. I didn't know if people would actually come read it, but I knew no one would drive all that way to read a bad book." It's impossible to make the trip to and from the booth in the desert without stopping at a filling station on the other side of the county, but neither Suarez nor the locals imagined so many travelers that it would be viable to set up a convenience stand at the booth. The county is pleased, and Suarez--as she nearly always does--affects equanimity. "I wouldn't have imagined it or even necessarily chosen it, but hey the book has created a marketplace. How many people over the years have told me they don't know where I fit in the marketplace? I wish I'd thought earlier to just make my own."
From a listicle featuring the best writing about Remediated:
Most of us will never read Remediated , but who cares when there's so much incredible stuff written about it ... Any list of the best writing about Suarez's desert tome starts with Chad Logan's exceptional new volume, The Book That Was There . Adapted from his article in The Atlantic , Logan's riff on reading--and not reading--in the digital age is both hilarious and erudite. Available only as an e-book, but if you let that stop you, you're missing Logan's point. A must for anyone who loves books. *
In the fall, the desert cools. An occasional rain keeps the dust down. The winds quiet and the booth is spared its daily blast of sand. The sun sits a little lower in the sky, less harsh, with longer shadows. This is temperate for the desert and the crowds swell with the mild weather. Even those willing to start midnovel, happy to read at someone else's pace, cannot all fit inside the booth.
They stand for a moment, at a loss, thrown off by the weirdness of their problem. But it doesn't take them long to adapt, to shake themselves out and find a solution.
They lie in the shade of the booth. They sit inside their unzipped tents. They tie tarps between two trucks for more shade. They settle in and go as quiet as the sand. And then they take turns, standing at the rib-high shelf reading out loud to the gathered strangers.
From a C-SPAN interview with Chad Logan, author of The Book That Was There:
INTERVIEWER: In some ways, your book could be read as a defense of how ideas spread in the digital age. Is there too much hand-wringing about the Internet being a shallow, reactive medium?
LOGAN: I don't think about the book as choosing sides in that debate. Medium changes don't come to the written word very often. The last one was the invention of the printing press and before that it was the invention of the book. So what's happening right now is historically immense and an opportunity really to examine our relationship to reading in a way that's very hard when something is static for centuries and centuries. And, we should mention, these are the same questions, I'm sure, that were behind Remediated and what--
INTERVIEWER: Well, yes, then by the same token, is it perhaps too soon to try to answer questions about the impact of the Internet on the way we read?
From the transcript of a podcast interview with Suarez:
INTERVIEWER: The accounts I've seen of reading your book fall largely into two camps. It's either a once-in-a-lifetime read that changes the way you'll see the world, or it's a complete rip-off, a middling story not worth the long trip. You've complained in the past about expectations warping a reader's experience, but now you've created this huge burden of expectation.
SUAREZ: Yeah, I realized at some point that the trip would mean the book gets read in this exaggerated way, but that's just a side effect of the project, not the intent.
INTERVIEWER: This is sort of what you always say, right? It's not your intent. You can't control how people read the book These are just side effects. Should we really believe you went to the trouble and expense of creating this conceptual project without any concept in mind?
SUAREZ: Look, I'll never forget--my second book was partly about the financial industry. I was at a bookstore, signing copies, and a young man came up to me and said he was about to graduate from college, he hadn't known what he wanted to do, and then he read my book and as a result he'd decided to get a job at a hedge fund. He said, "Those guys don't take shit from no one." I was stunned. I thought I'd written this devastating moral takedown of that industry but that's obviously not what this kid read. I think about that moment whenever I publish something. I may have a specific concept in mind, but once I release it into the world I no longer control how people approach and think about that book.
INTERVIEWER: So, drive to the desert and read standing up by flashlight, but, no, I'd never dream of telling you how to approach the book.
From an AP article covering the announcement of the National Book Award finalists:
Logan, meanwhile, a finalist in the nonfiction category for his in-depth critique of the online response to a conceptual art project, becomes the first author shortlisted for a book that never had a print run. His treatise explores questions of what a book is and why we read, and he has said in several interviews that he wanted to challenge the dichotomy between "serious" printed books and "ghettoized" digital books. With today's announcement, he may have done just that.
From a Facebook post tagged to Pia Suarez's author page:
Just read Chad Logan's book about this lady's made-up book. Incredible, incredible read. This guy is brilliant and will blow your mind about nine different times. Best part is how empowering it is, idea that you make up a big part of every book you read. (Yeah, the title works on about a million levels.) It's funny and super smart, but not really like anything else. Do yourself a favor and download it. This one's a real original. *
The woman inside the booth reading, her hour was up a while ago, but not many of the people listening have noticed and those that have hope they are the only ones. She is a patient and evocative reader, filling the prose with life, giving each character a subtle and consistent shading. She is also Latina and not much older than Pia Suarez, so that, consciously and unconsciously, a number of the visitors feel this is what Remediated is supposed to sound like.
A young man, leaning against one of the booth's thin walls, has fallen a little in love with this woman. Just for now--he is much, much too young for her--but he has been moved by this weekend in the desert. He is engrossed by Suarez's story. His heart is big.
His phone, held just out of sight, records the reading. When he started, the recording was just for himself, something to listen to in private later, again. An artifact, a memento of his trip. Something in place of the book he could not put up on his shelf. Now, halfway through, he is not so sure. He is already imagining the end of the novel, the end of this experience. Once it's lost, how will he ever be able to explain it to anyone? The trolls online could not so easily dismiss it all if they understood this beautiful moment: unique and meaningful and, once he gets back in cell range, available as a torrent.
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|Article Type:||Short story|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2018|
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