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Friday, July 31, 2015

New book reads the same frontward or backward

Sunday, January 5, 2003

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Saga a gas? On startup, put rats. No saga a gas.

Which is to say, very loosely translated, it wasn't fun getting this story under way with a palindrome about, kind of, the difficulty of stringing palindromes together that makes some semblance of sense.

Oh yeah, a single-word palindrome -- a text in which the sequence of letters and numbers reads the same backward or forward -- is easy. Think "wow," or "mom."

Palindrome sentences are more work, like the semiclassic "A man, a plan, a canal: Panama," or "Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas."

But try making a palindrome paragraph some time, let alone a whole palindromic story. After a while, you're likely to run, not walk, to the television for the mental respite of "Laverne and Shirley" reruns.

So while "2002: A Palindrome Story in 2002 Words" by William Gillespie and Nick Montfort may read in places like a stream-of-consciousness Beat Generation piece, show some respect.

Published by Gillespie's Spineless Books and illustrated by New York artist Shelley Jackson, the little book is, in a nutshell, the story of Bob, a computer programmer, Babs, the coffee house waitress with whom Bob is infatuated, and Otto, the customer who's mean to Babs.

The cafe serves beer specialties like Regal Lager (read it backward). Two of the characters have sex. One of them gets shot. And this happens whether you start at the beginning or start at the end, allowing for fairly liberal reallocation of letters and punctuation.

Gillespie is a Web master at the University of Illinois. He also has a background in creative writing and a string of successful, online literary efforts to his credit, in addition to his independent publishing house and an alternative news site called Newspoetry.

While he was studying for his master's degree at Illinois State, he and some friends collaborated on a hypertext novel for fun. "Hypertext" is the basis of the Web, with its clickable links that whisk you off to other material.

The piece ended up winning an international hypertext literary competition in 1998.

But why a palindromic book? For one thing, 2002 was a palindromic year, Gillespie said. Moreover, those of us who have been around since at least Jan. 1, 1991, have lived through two palindromic years.

That doesn't happen to many generations. Until now, it hadn't happened since 999 and 1001, and it won't happen again until 2992 and 3003. The next single palindromic year isn't until 2112.

In addition, Gillespie said he enjoys the challenge of writing with "formal constraints" such as the palindrome form.

Gillespie has even invented a form of his own, "20 consonant poetry," which requires the writer to use all the consonants in the alphabet before repeating any of them.

So when Montfort proposed collaborating on a palindromic story, Gillespie was naturally game.

Like Gillespie, Montfort, who is at the University of Pennsylvania, is a combination technologist and man of letters. The two met at a 1999 conference in Atlanta and quickly realized they shared many interests.

They started on the palindromic book in late 2000 with the goal of being done by the time 2002 dawned. They made it, barely.

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