AN OLD ROMANCE NOVEL BECOMES A SPECIAL-EFFECTS MOVIE ON PAPER

I have always enjoyed attending used book sales held by libraries and other institutions for the simple reason that—unlike a retail bookstore venue—you never know what strange out-of-print relics you might find. In buying an old book at such a sale I feel I am saving its life, as I regard being thrown into a recycling bin (the typical fate of the unsold titles) as a kind of death for a book that once was new and full of hope of finding a lasting audience.  

But most books lose their allure for most readers within a few years after publication. This is particularly strange in the case of older best-sellers that no one wants to read after newer best-sellers come along. Why should a best-seller, by definition a book that the public seems to adore, typically have so short a shelf life?  Readers are fickle and have been in every generation. And the piles of unwanted books continue to amass at sales in gymnasiums and garages.

Shown below is the cover and a two-page spread from my latest erasure book, a thorough alteration of a 1908 American romance novel called Prisoners of Chance by Randall Parrish.  The original text is rife with racism, sexism and cheesy melodrama.  I decided to keep the title but to transform the text into a surreal exploration of the human psyche and its fantastical pursuit of what it hopes is happiness. All based on my own inner life, I confess. Perhaps there is a resemblance to your inner life as well.

 

Lawrence Sutin