THIS BOOK IS A MASTERPIECE. What would it mean for this book to be a masterpiece? First we would have to address on what basis, in a review of Building Stories, we would be able to use the word “book.” Chris Ware, as an artist of “comics” is not initially a maker of “books.” Not at first. In fact, Building Stories, having been assembled (or amassed, or compiled) from pieces made for Nest, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere, would itself appear to be something quite different from a book. It would look, in fact, like something more ephemeral, more contemporary, perhaps like something closer to a “magazine” or a “comic strip” than to a book.
But what a “book” is now is a contested subject. For example, if you accept the argument that an e-book is not a book but the merest simulacrum of a book, a sort of watery gruel of book-related material, and that, rather than promoting innovation, the form of the e-book inevitably engenders the most straightforward narrative necessities (because it is very hard to skim around in an e-book, and therefore the e-book is the “book” that must by its nature go from point A to point B), which narrative necessities are anathema to innovative modern literature, a form more about consciousness than about narrative trajectory, a form more about a community than about an individual, a form more about interior and subjective space than about external events, and a form more about fragmentation than continuity; if you accept these arguments, then a literary “book” could very well be an enormous reinforced box full of sixteen or so discrete booklets, most of them with differing trim sizes and formal intentions: a booklet that reads like a comic strip, a booklet that reads like a comic book, a booklet that reads like a newspaper (broadsheet), a booklet reads like a pamphlet, a booklet that is really a board game, a booklet that reads like a hardcover book, a booklet that reads like a paperback, and so on.
Building Stories, in this view, is a very clever and moving statement about what a book is now, and what a book is now is a physical object that you can cherish, hold close, and ruminate over, a physical object you can come at in completely different ways, depending on circumstance, and which gives the maximum amount of interpretive power to you, the reader, instead of rendering you a passive recipient of some narrative bludgeoning. Thus — as Building Stories would say, and often does with a big emphatic colon: Thus: “Thus:” — this book is a masterpiece, in part because it is a big f#%& you to the e-book, and to those of the digerati, who say “I get grumpy now when I have to read a physical book.” Oh f#%& you, buddy, and your precious stock valuation, try picking up this box, which is the size of an atlas (with all that that implies, because it’s an atlas of a certain kind of urban life, viz., apartment life, and the ways in which people are conjoined, however temporarily, in apartments, until they move on and are unconjoined, but always with the trace of that prior address in them, ever after), and which makes your Kindle look about as heart-warming as an electro-stimulator.
This book is also a masterpiece, because it is nothing like a film. As indicat...read more