JF Ptak Science Books
"Sometimes a book is just entirely bad, and sometimes it is entirely nothing. It is impossible for a book to be both very bad and very nothing. Impossible. Except for this book, whose badness is exceeded only by its nothingness, and vice versa ". –Oscar Wilde
And so into this black hole of imaged Wildeian description we go, into a very real-ish book.
I found a novel tonight, bought long ago and long ago mostly lost. It was written by a doctor who worked in the District Hospital in Lima, Ohio, and written in 1934. The Lima Hospital was the largest poured concrete structure in the world when it was built in 1915, and stayed so until the Pentagon was completed. The hospital was established for the criminally insane, had 14"-thick walls, and reinforced steel bars laid into the walls that went "right down to bedrock".
It was somewhere in there that this doctor wrote something that was really so toweringly bad that it escapes comprehension. I own the carbon copy of the unpublished work, which is typed on 14×8.5" sheets of paper, front and back, running 94 pages. It is a very crowded affair, with 90 lines of single-space typed lines, making the work about 115,000 words long.
There wasn't enough space evidently for paragraphs, which gives the work a kind of insistent, casket-cramped cruelty. To read it takes your breath away for its dullness–the book moves so weirdly and at the same time so very slowly that it doesn't move at all even while moving.
A few months ago I found the seven-foot-long scroll of the book's plan–a work of crowded magnificence of nothing and confusion, being very orderly at the same time. It went to a friend of mine who created artwork around it, and as it happens made a very noticeable appearance in a very significant yearly show in NYC last week. I was stunned to find that there was actually a text to go with the scroll-outline–it emerged from the warehouse this week, so perhaps this too will find a very celebrated life as art as well. Certainly the book would go nowhere on its own as a book, though it stood a chance at surviving on the grounds of its considerble design weirdness, which is of a complexified beauty.
In the meantime, before all of the letters slide themselves off the page from sheer boredom and before the thing is resurrected as a magnificent artistic effort, I'll share some ianges of the extra-ordinary book of reversed brilliant badness. I've also culled a few imaginary descriptions of the book from writers known and not:
"He couldn't speak. He could barely see. Blinded by the flames ignited inside his eyeballs from the novel in his lap. The words were like molten lead, sucked off the page by his eyes, forming a vacuum in his brain. It was a bad book".
The first-time published novelist's approach:
"He couldn't speak the words of the thoughts in his head, because they and all of his breath were stolen by the magic of the complete badness of the book in his lap".
"The book was bad and bad, and bad was the book. Even the badness of the bad was bad, a whole new insight into being bad. It was the bad book by which bad books are called bad".
"He didn't read the book so much as he looked through it. It was easy–there was nothing there. As bad as it was, it could get no worse. So he shot it, and poured a drink".
You might wonder what this book is about. Me too.