The Unfortunates: a tale that you design yourself!


Books have always been one of our favorite things. They can be read for leisure, for education, to put a child to sleep, to escape reality, and to discover new worlds. And they can come in so many different forms, from chapter books, to picture books, to collections of other works, to even audio books. However, as different as they are, the majority of these books all have one thing in common: they are meant to be read from front to back, in a specific order. Even books that are collections of other works usually have a thought out order in which they are compiled. So are there books out there that don’t fall into this order category?

The book in the box!

The answer is yes. And we happen to have one of them in Special Collections. The Unfortunates is a book written and compiled by B. S. Johnson in 1969. It is often referred to as a “book in a box,” simply meaning it was sold in a box, an uncommon practice at the time. There are 27 chapters, ranging from one paragraph to 12 pages. The chapters are unbound, and the only two chapters labeled are the first and the last.

The plot is about a sportswriter who is sent to an unnamed city (likely Nottingham) on an assignment. While he is there, he reflects on memories from his past. The first chapter describes him arriving in the city and must be read first, and the final chapter describes him preparing to head home and must be read last. The other 25 chapters are reflections on memories. They can be read in virtually any order, and Johnson even encourages readers to rearrange the chapters in any way they wish.

So many possibilities!


This book offers a unique chance for readers to compile the story themselves, becoming somewhat of their own author. Each person can experience the book differently, with thousands of different possibilities. If you’re interested in creating your own combination to experience this rare book, come visit us in McFarlin Special Collections any time between 8:00-4:30, Monday-Friday.

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