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Remediated.

The booth is painted blue, but the wind and the sand have dulled the color. The corrugated metal roof, pitched at a shallow angle, has a broad overhang that casts a large and welcome shadow. Two clapboard walls front the desert winds, but the other two sides are open, allowing the air to circulate and sand to drift across the concrete floor. There is no cellular phone reception for 25 miles in any direction. Nobody lives within 30 miles, and the nearest road sputters out 6 miles to the south. Scrub brush and dun earth spread in every direction as far as the eye can see. Last year less than 20 inches of rain fell here and the temperature exceeded 90 degrees for 84 consecutive days.

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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Author:Merrill, Judson
Publication:Chicago Review
Article Type:Short story
Date:Jun 22, 2018
Words:4620
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