The Musical Illusionist, Now Appearing at the Hotel St. George

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

Like McSweeny's, Hotel St. George is a painfully hip lit website and print publisher that satisfyingly delivers on its pretensions. Their website is stunning, one of the more impressively-designed sites I've seen. And their print publishing efforts are truly unique, infused with wonder and playful, brainy ideas for presenting and telling stories.
I'm currently reading writer and filmmaker Alex Rose's The Musical Illusionist and Other Tales ($14.95). It's one of the most imaginative and unconventional collections I've read in years. It's really fired up my imagination. Here's the back cover copy which, while typically breathless, accurately describes the whimsy and weirdness contained within.
Disappearing manuscripts. Profane numbers. Extinct bacteria. Cities without shadows. A language spoken entirely in rhythms. A man deaf solely to the waltzes of Chopin. These are among the many anomalies to be found in the Library of Tangents, a vast underground archive whose beguiling exhibitions are detailed by Alex Rose in his exquisite debut collection, The Musical Illusionist. A masterful fusion of science-historic precision and magical-realistic caprice, this Pandora's Box of curious tales stands in the tradition of Borges, Calvino and Pavic, blending the playfulness and mythic wonder of folk tales with the complexity and richness of modern thought. Together, these interlaced parables chart an inebriating realm of possibility, the secret passageways that lie between words and meanings, neurons and thoughts, space and time, fact and fiction, sound and music–and in doing so, activate that rare, dreaming rapture one felt as a child, entranced.
The book is as beautiful as it is eccentric, with real scientific illustrations, religious art, maps, and cryptographic manuscripts helping to sell the bait and switch of the "truth" where each story begins with the farcical world where each story ends up.
The latest offering from Hotel St. George is Correspondences ($50, incl. shipping), by Ben Greenman, a limited-edition series of letterpressed stories on thick accordion-fold paper tucked inside of pockets, inside of a slip case. Three two-sided accordions hold six stories. A seventh story is contained on the packaging and there's also an included post card that you can return with your idea for finishing the seventh story. Worthy submissions are being posted on the HSG website. This is a beautiful piece of book art that will especially appeal to collectors of new letterpress work.


  1. No, it’s correct. It’s referring to the story “The Island of Japan,” about one of the 2,000 islands in the archipelago of Japanese islands, where, after a tsunami hits, Kodo drumming sounds become the basis of the island’s post-apocalyptic language.

  2. Thanks for the pointers, The Musical Illusionist sounds just like my cup of tea.

    Can’t stand the HSG website though, when will designers learn that people want simple, intuitive interfaces rather than fancy high-concept sites that look good but are actually a pain to navigate? Grr…

  3. That book sounds really interesting, thanks. I have trouble getting into short stories, but that’s made it to my to-buy list.

  4. I, for one, am not going to spend much time at any site where I have to wait for the pages to load. Nor where the structure of each page is glaringly announced by having each section of it load slowly and spearately.

  5. Im with zeroy and hopefully the designers of that site will read some of these comments as positive feedback. Each page loads a jillion little piece and, yes, glaringly announces it’s structure. It ends up feeling messy

    Two better ways to do it:
    1. crop your pages and use image maps of the links since it’s not like the links seem to actually be doing anything fancy.

    2. if you really want to go there with this book-look then use flash. it might take a few moments to load, but it’ll be pretty and far more responsive.

    Just my two cents…

    one more cent: the fact of the slow loading is precipitated by the table design which makes pages load way slow. I never made it past the first two before I was outta there. I’m sure they have good books and, you know, you can’t judge a book by.. but it’s 7.30 am – who has the patience for slow page loads?

  6. The books sound interesting, but I have to agree that the website is only stunning in it’s ability to make me flash back to 1993-94 when nobody had any clue how to design for the web.

  7. I love the short stories, very engaging and quickly get you hooked. I work for hotels in Manchester uk
    and they are ideal for a quick read when I get a break, mind you my work mates call me anti social now for a joke lol.

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