The Big Read Blog (Archive)

A Journey through the Storyverse

http://youtu.be/DSlY74J6iH8

Browsing through Small Demons is like playing a literary version of Six Degrees of Separation. The site, which launched last autumn, compiles the details mentioned in some 10,000 books---the people, places, songs, products, etc.---and shows how those details connect the books with other stories. In other words, it maps out what the site terms “the storyverse.”

According to Richard Nash, vice president of content and community at Small Demons, the idea for the site began when founder Valla Vakili was reading the French mystery novel, Total Chaos. Vakili found himself downloading the songs mentioned in the book and drinking the brand of whiskey favored by the protagonist. While planning an upcoming European vacation, Vakili switched the Paris leg of his trip to Marseille, where Total Chaos is set, so that he could further immerse himself in the novel’s atmosphere. “He realized he had spent $700 because of a book,” said Nash. “And he thought, ‘There's got to be something here.’”

The site is based on the premise that readers will be as detail-obsessed as Vakili, which seems highly plausible given the blogs devoted to the invented vocabulary of A Clockwork Orange, or sites like Infinite Atlas, which maps out all the locations mentioned in Infinite Jest. “These details within books---songs, locations---are ways for us to maintain some of the emotion, and tether narrative to memory,” Nash speculated when asked why he thinks readers become so enamored with literary minutiae. Furthermore, these details can also serve as “little portals in the text that might allow you at some point to jump to another text through sheer serendipity.”

I was curious to see what kind of “portals” connected our Big Read books to one another. A number of Big Read titles have been catalogued on Small Demons, including The Great Gatsby, Old School, The Age of Innocence, A Farewell to Arms, and Fahrenheit 451. Even when limiting the search to literary references, the Big Read web spun out fairly far. Tobias Wolff’s Old School mentions Big Read authors Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Edith Wharton, in addition to Lord Byron. In turn, Edgar Allan Poe is mentioned in Wharton’s Age of Innocence and Byron is mentioned in Fahrenheit 451, whose text mentions Shakespeare, who makes an appearance in Big Read title Washington Square and Old School, closing the literary loop. It’s a fun, tangled way to journey through the strange and fascinating pathways of the world of literature.

Although users can suggest new references and edit topics, Nash said that the site’s participatory aspects will gradually increase, though the precise details of when and how are a work in progress. But it’s satisfying enough to simply explore Small Demons, and as the site suggests, discover everywhere that a single book can take you.

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