RANSOM RIGGS
RANSOM RIGGS

The Future of Books Is Experimental: At Home with Tahereh Mafi and Ransom Riggs

RANSOM RIGGS
RANSOM RIGGS

All week long, Tahereh Mafi and Ransom Riggs sit side by side at a long workbench facing their Santa Monica backyard, writing. The couple, both bestselling young-adult novelists, got married last September (tweeting <3s to each other to the joy of their many fans). So that they don’t distract each other, they wear noise-canceling headphones. “The headphones are like saying, ‘I’m in my workspace now.’ When you take them off, you’ve exited that work space,” Mafi explains.

It may be an unconventional writing situation, but it makes sense for a twosome that defies conventionality. In their books, Mafi and Riggs employ multidimensional tactics—respectively, redacted text that reveals the psyche of the narrator and stories spun from found photos—to bring their words to life in new, utterly engaging ways. And the risks they’ve taken have paid off.

Riggs, 34, went to film school, freelanced for a number of sites (including mentalfloss.com), wrote a book about Sherlock Holmes, produced book trailers, and wrote screenplays before pitching a book idea inspired by his hobby of collecting old snapshots at flea markets. He’d envisioned an Edward Gorey–esque tome featuring couplets—“goofy-creepy,” as he describes it. But his editor at Quirk Books had another idea. Why not use the photos as the basis for a novel? Riggs eagerly agreed. “I let the photos tell me about what the story would be,” he says. “I’m trying to be careful to choose photos that will add a layer of detail and meaning that can’t be expressed in words. They do something that words can’t do.”

The result was the acclaimed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a novel combining fantasy, mystery, and deliciously weird vintage black-and-white photographs, an instant hit when it was published in 2011. Now, Tim Burton is “officially attached” as the director for the movie, with shooting slated for this year, and in January, Riggs released a hotly anticipated sequel, Hollow City.

If Riggs’s inspiration comes to him in photos, Mafi’s begins with words: “A lot of writers will tell you they’ve been writing their whole lives, but for me it wasn’t like that. I was always a lifelong reader,” she says. After graduating from college in 2009, she began to read Y.A., “everything I could get my hands on,” and then she started writing, penning five or six unpublished manuscripts in a year. Soon, she produced Shatter Me, a dystopian fantasy about an incarcerated teen, which she published in 2011, when she was 23. It became a bestseller.

The inception of the story was the idea of a terrified young girl that came into Mafi’s mind along with a sense of how that girl would use language and why. “When we meet her at the beginning, she’s been locked up for almost a year,” Mafi says. “She hasn’t talked, she hasn’t touched anyone, and she’s spent the majority of her life being treated like a monster. She writes things down and crosses them out and has obsessions with words and numbers and repetition.”

Mafi depicts the fraught psychological state of her protagonist, Juliette, not only through words but also through the absence of words. Juliette thinks and then redacts her own thoughts; Mafi uses strike-throughs to show her confusion and the complexity of her emotions. Throughout the series, as Juliette grows stronger, the strike-throughs evolve. By the third book, they’re gone. The technique offers a kind of interpretive puzzle for the reader, who must figure out the layered messages and, as is the case for Juliette, what exactly should be believed. It was a bold artistic choice, but it was one Mafi believed in. “I sat down to write a book, and I thought, ‘Screw convention. I’m going to write it the way it feels like it needs to be written,’” she says. The method was so successful that Shatter Me was sold as a trilogy. Ignite Me, the final book in the series (which, in addition to Unravel Me, also contains two digital novellas from the perspective of other characters), has just been released.

At a time when people communicate in ever-evolving ways and, increasingly, live in more than one space—online and in “real life”—this sort of experimentation seems especially appropriate. And as pessimists continue to sound a death knell for print, today’s young readers may respond best to narratives like these—ones that aren’t linear, that offer a variety of layered entry points, and that demand for a certain amount of participation. “There is no one way to tell a story,” says Mafi. “The one thing that sets books apart is when they are told with real, raw, honest emotion—if you just throw your heart in it. When that’s there, you can just feel it.” These two authors have figured out ways to marry their particular stories with unique styles that, as Riggs puts it, “keep the story moving forward and do it through the lens of a living, breathing 3-D character.”

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Subscribe to our print edition here, and our iPad edition here.

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TASCHEN
Everything You Need to Know About Food in One Book
TASCHEN
TASCHEN

If you find yourself mixing up nigiri and sashimi at sushi restaurants or don’t know which fruits are in season, then this is the book for you. Food & Drink Infographics, published by TASCHEN, is a colorful and comprehensive guide to all things food and drink.

The book combines tips and tricks with historical context about the ways in which different civilizations illustrated and documented the foods they ate, as well as how humans went from hunter-gatherers to modern-day epicureans. As for the infographics, there’s a helpful graphic explaining the number of servings provided by different cake sizes, a heat index of various chilies, a chart of cheeses, and a guide to Italian cold cuts, among other delectable charts.

The 480-page coffee table book, which can be purchased on Amazon for $56, is written in three languages: English, French, and German. The infographics themselves come from various sources, and the text is provided by Simone Klabin, a New York City-based writer and lecturer on film, art, culture, and children’s media.

Keep scrolling to see a few of the infographics featured in the book.

An infographic about cheese
TASCHEN

An infographic about cakes
Courtesy of TASCHEN

An infographic about fruits in season
Courtesy of TASCHEN
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YouTube/Great Big Story
See the Secret Paintings Hidden in Gilded Books
YouTube/Great Big Story
YouTube/Great Big Story

The art of vanishing fore-edge painting—hiding delicate images on the front edges of gilded books—dates back to about 1660. Today, British artist Martin Frost is the last remaining commercial fore-edge painter in the world. He works primarily on antique books, crafting scenes from nature, domestic life, mythology, and Harry Potter. Great Big Story recently caught up with him in his studio to learn more about his disappearing art. Learn more in the video below.

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