Life Big Read Question Thread 5

So here are a couple of things for you to ponder. Number one, now that we’ve gotten through most of the book, I want to return to one of the very first questions we brought up–do the constraints matter to you or not?

I’d like to know what everyone thinks, so please do share your thoughts. Have you thought about any of the constraints as you’ve read? Do you wish you knew more about them? Less? Would the book be different without them? Would your reading be different? Do you care?

And secondly, if you haven’t discovered yet, Chad Post has been doing some great blogging of his read of Life A User’s Manual as part of this Big Read. He’s put up his third and latest post just this week, and it happens to deal very much with the constraints. So check that out, plus his other posts on the read so far.

And if you have any questions or answers, put them here.

And if you’re enjoying the read, I remind you, this is donation week.

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The constraints are very interesting to know about while reading, but I have gotten my enjoyment out of the individual stories and descriptions in the book. When I tell my friends about the book, they definitely latch onto how cool the constraints sound, but after following the knight for the first 100 pages or so with my graph paper, I stopped and just let the stories do their work. That said, I kept out my paper and mentally charted where we were, generally, but I definitely wasn’t as rigorous as I was during the beginning of the book.

The constraints are crucial to the work. The Knight’s Tour keeps all of the puzzle pieces separate. If, on the other hand, you read the building left to right starting on the top floor and moving down, some pieces are joined together in small clumps as happens when a solved puzzle is broken apart and put back in the box. As an old jigsaw puzzle fan, I always like to start with all pieces separated.

I’m sure I’m not the only reader on this site tackling The Pale King at the same time as Life and I’m wondering if anybody else has found it a rich experience to read both of these concurrently. I just got to the chapter that was excerpted recently, about the boy who sets the seemingly arbitrary goal of kissing every part of his body and all I could think of were the watercolor puzzles. Also: the parts about the trying to get a raise from the boss in Life are interesting to read with Pale King.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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