Quantcast
Life A User's Manual Big Read starts today. Welcome! If you need a refresher on the schedule of reading, have a look here. Now then, first things first: everyone observe that there's no colon in the title of this book. No, I'm not sure why either. Maybe we can figure it out. I don't want to say too much about this week's reading yet, so for today just a few words about how Perec set this book up. Famously . . ." />

The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:


Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

For low prices on Las Vegas shows visit LasVegas.ShowTickets.com

You Say

  • Mike: I agree with much of this discussion, though I'm not sure wh
  • S: This outpouring has been pretty wide-spread indeed. To be ho
  • Will: Salman rushdie is a microscopic crapule on the asshole of th
  • Henry: I think the fireworks may come from the fact that these auth
  • Paul: Vanessa Place's 'La Medusa' seems like an American authored
  • Lance: I agree with you about the state of American fiction and I b
  • Lance: Any idea on the schedule for The Body and The Right WIng? Al

Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

Shop though these links = Support this site


Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

Welcome to the Life A User’s Manual Big Read

Okay everyone, the Life A User’s Manual Big Read starts today. Welcome! If you need a refresher on the schedule of reading, have a look here.

Now then, first things first: everyone observe that there’s no colon in the title of this book. No, I’m not sure why either. Maybe we can figure it out.

I don’t want to say too much about this week’s reading yet, so for today just a few words about how Perec set this book up. Famously, Life A User’s Manual is riddled with constraints. As a member of the group OuLiPo, Georges Perec was a writer very much familiar with the idea of constraints. For example, probably the most famous writing constraint he ever engaged in was to write an entire book in which the letter “e” never appears. (And in fact, it has been translated into English, maintaining the constraint.)

Life A User’s Manual is saturated with all kinds of constraints (to get an idea, have a look at this table, in French but still quite comprehensible if you don’t have any French). I’m not nearly qualified to talk about all of these constraints, but there are a couple very famous ones that we should know about before we start reading.

The first is The Knight’s Tour. The idea of this is that there are specific routes by which the chess figure known as a Knight can touch every square on a chessboard. Perec envisioned his apartment as something like a chessboard, making it a 10 x 10 grid (36 squares larger than a chessboard’s 8 x 8). In Life, the narrative voice is akin to the Knight in that it moves from square to square via the leap that only a chess Knight can make (i.e. two steps forward, one to the right; or two steps left, one forward). Note that the apartments in Perec’s building are not each only 1 square in size . . . many of them are built by combining adjacent units into one large unit, which Perec notes in their descriptions. Each of the 99 chapters in Life corresponds to one of the squares, meaning that for some characters we are in their apartments more than once (albeit in different rooms of the apartment). And yes, the math majors among us have already noticed that 10 x 10 = 100, not 99. We’ll talk about that missing 100th chapter later.

Knowing this, and watching the clues that Perec leaves (usually at the beginning of each chapter) you can, if you want, reconstruct a diagram of the apartment as we go along. (There’s also a completed diagram at the end of the book, but I heavily recommend you don’t look at it early.) In fact, doing so as we read is probably tantamount to accepting Perec’s implicit challenge to “put together” his puzzle, as Bartlebooth does with jigsaw puzzles in the book. This would make sense, as one of the themes that Perec elaborates throughout Life is that of a puzzle as a medium of communication between the puzzle designer and the puzzle doer.

The one other thing I’ll mention right now is that Perec famously placed quotes from favorite authors directly into the text of Life without any sort of indication whatsoever. Undoubtedly some of these quotes will be recognizable to you, and it is a thrilling moment to see, for instance, Borges suddenly emerge from the text as though popping out of a pool of water. Probably, though, many of these quotes will go completely unnoticed, a further testament to Perec’s skill as a writer.

There is, I think, very much of a point to jigsawing in these quotes from other texts, as we’ll soon see that Life is very much concerned with ideas of appropriation and the global web of international culture (one wishes Perec had lived to see the Internet).

That’s enough for a first post. Enjoy this week’s reading, be on the lookout for more posts, and share any discoveries or thoughts in the comments section!

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Spring 2011 Big Read: Life A Users Manual We have chosen our Big Read for this spring, and it is Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec. Thanks to everyone who voted. If...
  2. Life A User’s Manual Big Read Schedule In this post you'll find the reading schedule for the 2011 Life A User's Manual Big Read, plus a list of resources and books you...
  3. Life A User’s Manual Coming Up A quick reminder that we'll be starting our big read of Life A User's Manual in two Mondays, March 14. Full schedule here. . ....
  4. Life A User's Manual Something tells me Georges Perec would find all this ruckus over plagiarism silly. From Life A User’s Manual: . . . and Moriane with its...
  5. Life: A User's Manual In Life: A User’s Manual, Georges Perec describes a rarely visited tribe deep within Sumatra. An anthropologist is trying to understand the habits of the...

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

4 comments to Welcome to the Life A User’s Manual Big Read

  • Richard

    Scott: Thank you so much for the great intro post. Your description of the Knight’s Tour constraint is excellent and clear. I’m so excited we are doing this book at the Spring read!

    Even more exciting, for me, is that I’m going to be traveling to Europe this Sunday for the first time in my life. I’ll be in Paris at one point for four days (the whole trip is two weeks). I don’t know how well I’ll keep up with the reading schedule, or how often I’ll be able to comment here, but I’m fully planning on taking Life A User’s Manual as my traveling companion/user’s manual, and very much look forward to reading it at one of the cafes described in Perec’s An Attempt To Exhaust a Place in Paris, which I also recently read…

    Happy reading, everyone. Let the games begin!

  • bill d

    At first I thought this was going to be a Pynchonesque experience (being wowed by a ployglot and trivia obsessed personality). To my delight I got into the rhythm after about 40 pages or so and actually laughed out loud a few times at some of the more bizarre characters and their behaviors/history. the obscure chessboard info is nice to know I suppose but I don’t see such convoluted, behind the scenes architecture making me actually enjoy reading the book more. We’ll see I suppose.

  • getahold

    My main thought, 40 pages in– I’ve really got to let loose, I know– is that I really need to read the chapter on Bartlebooth as soon as possible, and until I do I’m on the edge of my seat. The puzzles I put together as a child–at least I knew what they were supposed to be of, even in a vague idea. But I grew up with industrial, machine-made puzzles. I wonder if the ones Perec is thinking of/employing came in boxes that advertised what they were? I never remembered being so nervous when putting together a puzzle before.

  • [...] part, I think knowing about at least a couple of the major ones is important. I view something like The Knight’s Tour as being as much a part of the book as Bartlebooth because this funny little constraint is very [...]

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>