For the weekend, here's a little something "off-list;" an interesting and very unique book I read this week, Eunoia by Christian Bok. I first came across Christian while writing for WordFest a few years ago, and have been following him on Twitter ever since. Perhaps best described as an experimental poet, he’s published several books, and is well known in the literary community
While I was aware of the nature of his work, I had never read anything of his. A few months ago however, he had tweeted a link to an interview with Penn Jillette, who talked about Eunoia as one of the most influential books he’d ever read. Normally I wouldn’t be one to read a book because some celebrity recommended it, but the unique nature of this book made it hard to resist.
Eunoia is the shortest English word to contain all five vowels, and foreshadows the writing to come. Basically, there are five chapters, one for each vowel, and each containing words with ONLY that vowel.
“Hassan can ask that a barman at a bar tap a cask and draw a man a draft (half a dram, a glass): marc, grappa and armagnac, malt, arrack and schnapps.”
“The sheepherders mend fences; the sheeptenders tend hedges. The sheepbreeders even breed steer, then geld them.”
“Slick pimps, bribing civic kingpins, distill gin in stills, spiking drinks with illicit pills which might bring bliss.”
“Most sloths, too slow to scoot from log to log, loll on mossgrown knolls of cottownwood to chomp on bollworms.”
“Ubu gulps up brunch: duck, hummus, nuts, fugu, bulgur, buns (crusts plus crumbs), blutwurst, bruhwurst, spuds, curds, plums: munch munch.”
It really is an adventure through the English language, using a plethora of words most have never heard before. I purposefully never looked up any of the words he uses, but instead let the context in which they were used be my guide. And for the most part, it all seemed to make sense.
Each chapter, because of the vowel used, has a unique feel to it, not only from the obvious sounds it repeats, but even in the appearance. Several pages of only the letter i, evokes a feeling of staccato notes, while Chapter U is soothing and takes on the sound of a bass.
But the real beauty in this book is, that it was written. Somebody took the time to find all these words, and put them to paper. Penn described it as a ship in a bottle; the beauty is that one built a ship in a bottle, not that they built a beautiful ship. I couldn’t think of a better way to put it.
I read a few pages to some friends, who at first balked, but couldn’t help but chuckle at hearing a paragraph, that does make sense, using only one vowel. There isn’t really much of a story per se, so one can simply turn to any page, and take something from it. I like to think of it as a beautiful example of the unique and complex nature of English, and a perfect example of why I love the written word so much.