BOOKS
01/29/2013 09:48 am ET

'Exercises In Style - 65th Anniversary Edition' By Raymond Queneau: The Book We're Talking About

Exercises in Style: 65th Anniversary Edition
by Raymond Queneau, translated by Barbara Wright, Chris Clarke
Contributions by Ben Marcus, Blake Butler, Amelia Gray, Jesse Ball, Harry Mathews, Lynne Tillman, Shane Jones, Jonathan Lethem, Enrique Vila-Matas, Frederic Tuten
New Directions, $15.95
Published on January 31st

What is it about?
A story in which nothing happens - 137 times. A man gets on a bus. He watches a passenger complain about being jostled and then sit down. Later on, he sees the same man with a friend in the street. His friend is pointing out a missing button on his jacket.

And that's it. What makes the book compelling is seeing this same, banal tale told through a huge variety of literary styles, from science fiction to rhyme, haiku to official letter. The variety in its repetition becomes at first odd, then hilarious as more and more absurd forms are chosen.

Originally containing 99 tellings of this tale, the new anniversary edition features unpublished extra versions by Queneau, as well as new additions (Cyberpunk! Beat poetry!) by contemporary authors including Jonathan Lethem, Ben Marcus, and Lynne Tillman.

Why are we talking about it?
Earlier editions have long been the favorite of writing professors and language geeks. This witty, bizarre read is perfect for dipping into, or reading from cover to cover, for anybody who loves storytelling.

Who wrote it?
Raymond Queneau was an experimental French writer who died in 1976. Along with his Oulipo compatriots Italo Calvino and Georges Perec, he expanded writing and language through a series of games and experiments. Exercises in Style, first published in 1947, was his best-known work.

Who will read it?
Language lovers, writers looking for inspiration, creative writing professors looking for new challenges for their students.

What did the reviewers say?

New York Times (about the 1981 edition): "The central idea is brilliantly simple... a truly original work, even by international standards. In its witty, glancing way, it makes a greater contribution to the philosophy of language than many a portentous, academic tome."

Impress your friends:
Cartoonist Matt Madden created a superlative comic book version of the same exercise - a must-read for lovers of the art of graphic novels.

Opening line:
In the S bus, in the rush hour.

Typical passage:
One midday in the bus - the S-line was its ilk
I saw a little runt, a miserable milk -
Sop, voicing discontent, although around his turban
He had a plaited cord, this fancy-pants suburban.

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