Learning to Read

Lora Schwartz

Reading Shelly Jackson's work Patchwork Girl and My Body, immerses the reader in a hypertextual world and teaches the reader how to read. Even people inexperienced in hypertext reading can find ways to enter her stories. The bold images in both works keep the eye facinated. The easy choices, three main senarios or sections of the body, allow the reader to quickly slip into the story. Her links create different patterns of reading and the reader gets a strong sense that the story they are reading is perhaps a unique reading. The links often highlight a quirky phrase that takes a slightly different meaning when drawn out from the text in the background. Since she fufills all the criteria of hypertext so well, her work is not only a beautifully constructed narrative but also a tutorial in the interactive reading of the hypertext world.

I particularly like that in both cases the central character is fragmented as part of the story. Patchwork Girl is obviously stiched together and My Body is sectioned into pieces. As Damian Kulash pointed out in the 1996 class web on Shelly Jackson, the fragmented characters work well with and become a metaphor for the fragmented reading of hypertext. It does not feel awkward for readers to make the jumps between sections because everyone is familiar with the physical reality of their own body and realizes how separated different parts are. Nonetheless, as the Patchwork Girl's body is stiched together making a whole, so is the story for any one person. The metaphors of part combining into a whole are not at all hard to understand for the average person yet these really are the essence of reading hypertext. Shelley's stories are elegant, well written and, perhaps most importantly, very accessible.

Discussion of Patchwork Girl Overview Screen for Website Body and Self