Winter Break Reading Update: Oulipo Compendium, Hayles, and Castronova

I’ve gotten some sweet packages in the mail from Amazon over the past couple of weeks. My longest-anticipated purchase finally arrived from England. For the past year, I’ve had the Oulipo Compendium on order from Amazon UK. It seemed impossible to find a copy of the 1998 Compendium, edited by Harry Mathews and Alistair Brotchie, online, or in any used bookstore. I was beginning to think that the Oulipo Compendium would turn into my Holy Grail book. I searched depsondently at my favorite used bookstores. The Strand in New York didn’t have it, nor Myopic Books in Chicago. Lo and behold, two weeks ago it arrived, laden with pounds and pounds of shipping charges and great expectations. To my delighted surprise, the Compendium is not in fact the 1998 edition but a revised and updated 2005 edition. I had seen the 1998 edition and often coveted it, but I’ve recently had the pleasure of spending some fruitful hours with the new edition. The book is organized in a pleasingly cross-referenced hypertextual encyclopedia, and provides an immersive introduction to the Oulipo, both as a historical introduction to the group, its writers, and their work, and as a kind of workbook. Hundreds of Oulipan writing techniques ranging from the lipogram to the avalanche are explained and exemplified. It’s the type of book that makes you want to spend the afternoon playing with language at your keyboard. I’ll be teaching the book next semester in a new course titled “Art, Games, and Narrative.”

I’ve also recently received Katherine Hayles My Mother Was a Computer and Edward Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds, both recently published by the University of Chicago. Alan Liu writes of Hayles’ book, “Reading My Mother Was a Computer is like exploring a new planet. There are other scholars who have recently published books in areas that concern Hayles, but there is no one else who brings the history of science, cybernetics, hypertext theory, and new media into such multifaceted focus.” Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games promises to offer “the first comprehensive look at the online game industry, exploring its implications for business and culture alike.” Castronova is an associate professor at the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University and one of the bloggers at Terra Nova. I’ll post more on these two books after I’ve read them on an aircraft over Christmas break.

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