: New: Book Report: Many Subtle Channels in praise of potential literature

In honor of USA's Buy Nothing Day, a report on a book that I checked out of the library: Many Subtle Channels

It's a book about the OuLiPo. You've probably heard of them: they're a literary cabal in France that likes interestingly-constrained novels, poems, and whatever. You want to write a novel that consists 50% of first chapters? They're into that. You want to write a novel that doesn't contain the letter E? They're into that, too. You want to write a book of 10 sonnets cut into strips so that anyone can, by flipping pages, read one of 1014 incoherent sonnets? They're into that, too.

This book was a slow read. You're toddling along and then you find out about some Nabokov short story. And then it's off to teh internets to chase down the story. And then when it doesn't make sense because you don't understand the gimmick behind the writing, it's further into teh internets to find some analysis.

But it's fun. It's literary folks being goofy. They indulge in wordplay and, uhm, plot-play, and uhm, poem-structure play and then take that to an extreme and some of the results are pretty interesting. (I guess that a lot of the results aren't so interesting; from descriptions of old meeting notes, it sounds like there's plenty of uninteresting anagramming that happens which the author has mercifully spared us.)

I was keeping an eye out for puzzle ideas as I read, but this book inspired other kinds of thoughts around puzzle hunts. Like reminding me that flavortext is cooler when it's poems. And though the book is about puzzles, it gets into some familiar territory. It describes the scrutiny that folks apply to reading a work when they think it contains a gimmick; the paranoia of reading a book by an author who sometimes uses gimmicks, who probably didn't in the work that you're reading now, but maybe there is and nobody's spotted it yet so maybe you should read closely anyhow... and maybe in so doing you miss the forest for the trees and fail to appreciate some good reading because you were looking for patterns in the punctuation.

Tags: words puzzle scene book

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