Book Review: THE QUANTUM MANUAL OF STYLE by Brian Mihok


Brian Mihok {lives here}
Aqueous Books, 2013

A hybrid book built by the hands of a hybrid individual. Not only did Mihok construct the text but he also did the book design, layout, and cover design. There is a rigid playfulness in Mihok’s creative outpourings, a distilled discipline. Together with Edward Mullany, poet and artist, he edits the litmag matchbook and he also does video. In his own words, he is a donkey “wearing many different kinds of hats.”


The Quantum Manual of Style increases the reader’s agility regarding life. It is clear and weightless, barely existing, or rather, existing as an overlay, that is, something to lay over reality.

Early on it challenges basic notions of storytelling, putting us on our toes:

“The beginning is mysterious, like the idea of numbers.”

And then:

“To understand the ideas of beginning, of middle, and of end, you must purport to understand logic.”

And finally asking:

“If the beginning was a real thing explain the following,”

and Mihok goes on to narrate a situation that seems to have a beginning, but really the beginning keeps going farther back, receding, until, like the title of this section, we realize:

“Often the beginning is not just the end, but the middle.”

The history of the world precludes beginnings.


There is a moral to the story in Section I, namely, “singularities are mostly about acceptance.” If you aren’t prepared to accept things, the alternatives are sad, even paralyzing. The trick to acceptance is first accepting an event’s possibility, akin to imagining words into existence.


Is chance the same as randomness?

“Chance is not a flattering idea. Nor is it useful. Nor is it a pillar of quantum theory.”


This is worthy of a block quote:

Recall as many as you can the instances in which you felt powerful, intelligent, hopeful, edgy, soulful, authentic, honest, or morally good as a result of the clothing you were wearing.

Or the song that comes on that smells like fall.

Or the tennis point that lasts over twenty groundstrokes before coming to the net, and you get that feeling in the soles of your feet, tingling, like you’re sinking in sand, all lit on fire with goosebumps, and it feels good, so you start to smile, then laugh, then say, “fuck,” and your opponent is feeling something similar, and your opponent says, “yeah,” and it’s like you’re both somewhere where you want to stay forever, wobbily, working toward that point of pure exhileration, wondering if you have what it takes, sure that you do.

The idea being that once you are aware of these instances, do everything you can to repeat them. Even though there are so many things you can’t control from day to day, so-called singularities, there are some things you can control, so why not set yourself up for the spike.

Reminder: This is a book review of a novel/guidebook. This isn’t motivational speak. The Quantum Manual of Style isn’t inspirational, or self-help, it is more subtle than that, more ambitious, somehow managing to tell a story while exposing the skeleton of said story, and in doing so proving itself not just entertaining, but useful.


By Section I.19 – Attempt flight – the tiny story started at the beginning, the anecdote, begins to open wide. Tara graduates from high school and then, the next day, her dad suffocates himself and is gone.

This would be a singularity.

Tara travels alone to Toronto after working several months in a diner. The prose takes on the form of a vessel carrying the universe as it collapses toward you.


This is what The Quantum Manual of Style stresses about oceans:

View an ocean to satisfy the natural needs to experience the infinite because the actual limits of the oceans are undetectable from the shore. Use this to your advantage.

Once again, Brian Mihok is trying to communicate a personal epiphany to the reader. Like becoming conscious of those instances when you felt powerful, edgy, soulful, so as to build the same conditions again and replicate the outcome, exposure to oceans is a part of life you can control and should use, even exploit.


This book has me wondering how much longer I’ll be an apartment dweller.


On the effect of ebooks:

“Now books are shedding their physicality. The number will grow more quickly as a result.”


Section V.5 – Do not understand – is a good section. Every sentence in it needs to be quoted:

“That is, understand to a point, but do not fret over not understanding further.”

Note to self: meditate to the internal sound of me saying “mu.”

So many good quotes toward the end:

“Remember not to linger too long in this state of wonder lest you prevent yourself from accepting the reality of it.”

I read this, and the former quote, as statements against becoming pointless. In the getup of a guide/novelist, Brian Mihok is telling me to live more than think, and the time I spend thinking should be focused on imagining every possible singularity that could cross my path.


The book has a satisfying/disquieting end.

Tara, the second-person (you) narrator, has resilience, probably because she follows this manual of style. Resilient characters are commendable. It is being able to tap the reservoir of strength that will keep you standing. The manual calls it readiness, being ready for anything. All it takes to live on is being ready for anything. Tara ends up on the west coast, drawn to the vast and foreign.

A satifsying ending, one that puts the reader close to the ocean, or rather, the infinite, a place where I long to be whenever I’m away from this expanse, this orbital beauty, but it’s also disquieting because it begs the reader to wonder if Tara was ready for her father’s unexpected and sudden earthly disappearance. Did she already imagine it?

Given the premise within the book regarding singularities, it seems like she already accepted the possibility of this happening since such a deep tragedy didn’t leave her paralyzed/sad, instead she sets out on her own, perhaps subconsciously relying on Heisenberg’s uncertainty priniciple, intuiting that another way to prove immune to singularities is to keep moving, to escape the psychic tremors, that way the world, as observer, cannot steady her between its crosshairs.



November 18, 2013 7:38 pm

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