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Ergodic literature abounds at CDPL


If you spend enough time around our staff up on the second floor of the library, you’ll discover that one of our favorite book “hooks” is when a story is told in an unconventional manner–through unique and challenging formatting, narrative style and other wacky ways. This type of writing is called ergodic, which basically means any kind of literature that requires special effort to navigate and digest (from the Greek “ergon” meaning work and “hodos” meaning path). Most ergodic lit also includes nontraditional book media, like photos, news clippings, diagrams, etc. in order to tell a story.

What’s that, you say? This book here has little envelopes to open and tiny letters to pull out to read? That’s going to be an automatic add to my TBR list. Oh, this book narrates through maps, interview transcripts, photos and other bits of media? I have telepathically and instantaneously placed a hold on it. Hm? This one has text marching in all different directions across the pages, a thousand footnotes (and footnotes within footnotes), stories within stories, all combining to create a sense of disorientation similar to what the characters within the book feel?! Just take my money already!

Yeah, you might say we’re big fans of this genre here at CDPL, and that’s why you’ll find a lovingly curated display of ergodic literature selections up on the second floor between now and Sept. 15. Each title presents its own distinctive narrative challenge, so if none of the books mentioned here catch your interest, I highly encourage you to drop by and flip through all of the available choices.

Kicking off this highlight of ergodic titles is a can’t-miss book that you’ve likely heard of in passing before, as Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves” (FIC Dan) has been dazzling and disturbing readers since its publication in 2000. The main story Danielewski tells is that of a family who has moved into a house in which they discover the interior is inexplicably, bafflingly larger than the measurements of its exterior; but there are stories within stories here that begin to feel as labyrinthine as the house itself, and I haven’t even mentioned the book’s signature bizarre formatting that contributes toward a sense of claustrophobia and disorientation. In short, this book is a strange and experimental masterpiece! If you’re like me and already a big fan of “House of Leaves,” you may be excited to checkout our newly-acquired copy of Danielewski’s book “Only Revolutions” (FIC Dan), another amazing example of ergodic lit and a book which requires you to physically flip it over every couple of pages to continue the story.

If creepy and disorienting stories just put you off, never fear — there’s plenty of ergodic literature that’s more fun than spooky and closer to the Choose Your Own Adventure series that you may have loved as a young reader. Ryan North has two books on display that play with the stories of Shakespeare, “Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure” (FIC Nor) and “To Be or Not to Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure” (FIC Nor) and Neil Patrick Harris had a lot of fun with calling back to the series with his title “Choose Your Own Autobiography” (921 Harris, N). “Building Stories” by Chris Ware (741.5973 War — oversize) looks more like a board game than a book, even when you open its box, and figuring out how it all fits together makes up much of the fun of discovering the story! A few more ergodic books on display that I have my eye on and that I think might intrigue our patrons include “Bats of the Republic” by Zachary Thomas Dodson, the “Griffin and Sabine” series by Nick Bantock (dreamy and mysterious exchanges of letters between strangers), and “The Dead House” by Dawn Kurtagich (psychological suspense and paranormal drama as diary entries slowly reveal what happened to the victims of a fatal fire).

We hope this display will inspire you to break out of your normal reading habits a little this fall and have some fun with your books! Stay on the lookout for other fun initiatives happening at the library, like the addition of jigsaw puzzles and anime to the collection, and let us know if there are other ways we can spark joy for you and our community.


Shelbi Hoover is the library/digital communications assistant at the Crawfordsville District Public Library.


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