Edited and translated by John Sturrock
Penguin Classics, 2008
“How I think when I’m thinking? How I think when I’m not thinking?”
This is the rare sort of book which may serve as a tonic. Reading it will make you more prone to interesting thoughts. More precise and specific thoughts. Reading Perec, I am reminded again how vastly more exciting it is to hear about the peculiarities of Universal Decimal Classification than about a failed love affair. (Perhaps because jilted lovers tend to speak in generalities and rarely, if ever, are inspired to keep it brief?)
To me, it seems natural and advisable to feel a little worried when people speak of experimental literature. But Perec is one of those savants whose experiments are also a swimmingly good time. (Who would you add to this list? Calvino, Markson, Mathews, Cortazar, Davis, Barthelme -- who else? Could you please add suggestions in the comments section so I know who to read?)
This book collects important works by a man who never seems to consider himself important. He is always playing, improvising and inviting. And it is so much fun. His essay “Think/Classify” which points out, then demonstrates, the impossibility (and joy) of classification is one of my favorite essays of all time. (Purists of the form will likely not consider it an essay, which is appropriately hilarious.)
What a pleasure it is to be confronted by a simple decision: if you enjoy Perec, you’ll certainly want this book. If you are new to Perec -- and perhaps daunted by ‘LIFE: An Instruction Manual’ -- this is a brilliant and engaging introduction. Here is found a great playful mind, ceaselessly experimenting in short snippets and flashes, a da Vinci in literary fireworks, hurrying from one invention/apparation to the next.