This is a book about Oulipo, a group of writers, mathematicians, and linguists in the 1960s on, who experimented with language and writing. That's a wThis is a book about Oulipo, a group of writers, mathematicians, and linguists in the 1960s on, who experimented with language and writing. That's a wretched explanation of the group, but the entire idea of what they do blows my mind so much that I can't even explain what they do. Oulipians experiment with--among other mind-blowing challenges--lipograms, leaving out a specific letter, as in the case of Georges Perec's A Void, which NEVER uses the letter e in the entire book; combinatorics, as in the case of Raymond Queneau’s A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, which allows the reader to combine the 14 lines of 10 different sonnets to create her/his own new sonnets, or Italo Calvino's explanation of his "The fire in the cursed house" novel, or Raymond Queneau’s "A Story As You Like It" (which is basically a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story); and shifting words and phrases, such as in Jean Lescure's S+7 method, where a signifier in a story is replaced with the signifier that is 7 places away from it in the dictionary, or Harry Mathews's algorithm where he places the major parts of a sentence into a matrix, does the same with x number of other sentences, does some weird shifty-shifty movements within the matrix, and voila, composes a new work.

As the title says, this is a primer, so there are very few actual works of Oulipo in it, but many essays that describe what Oulipo did and what various authors accomplished (i.e. what experiments they performed) in their writings.

In reading some of the works described, I've found that the works can be interesting, or sometimes not so much (like A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems); but when you read the descriptions of *what* was done to create the work, and you think about the sweat and brainpower that must have gone into creating a work like that.... mind blown....more

It was okay, but not quite what I was expecting. There were some interesting tidbits, but since the book is laid out like a reference book, the factsIt was okay, but not quite what I was expecting. There were some interesting tidbits, but since the book is laid out like a reference book, the facts seem boring. They're more interesting when in books about math, not a reference book of numbers....more

Man, I used to consider myself decently intelligent when it came to math, but I'm telling you, some of these mathy books I've read this year and lastMan, I used to consider myself decently intelligent when it came to math, but I'm telling you, some of these mathy books I've read this year and last year are making me feel REALLY stupid. I understood about 1/2 of this book, and really *got* it; the other 1/2 went over my head. :( (But I'm consoling myself by saying that the fact that I'm still willing to read them means that I really am still a math geek.) However, the writing is good, the diagrams are good, and I think the authors did a good job of explaining the concepts, even if *I* didn't 100% understand them....more

A decent book, even though some of the math of it went over my head. Luckily (or not), there wasn't actually that much discussion of math in the book.A decent book, even though some of the math of it went over my head. Luckily (or not), there wasn't actually that much discussion of math in the book. It was more about Godel's life than just about his actual incompleteness theorems. ...more

I don't know how I feel about this book. It was a math-related book, which is good (Math! Yay! Fun!), but... I just ... It wasn't as good as other matI don't know how I feel about this book. It was a math-related book, which is good (Math! Yay! Fun!), but... I just ... It wasn't as good as other math books I've read. I found myself skimming parts, and my brain glazing over at other parts.

This is the first DFW book I've ever read, which may have some impact on my reception of it (Although, come to think of it, there is a DFW article in The New Kings of Nonfiction, which I didn't really have problems with.). I had a friend once, however, (actually, the person who gave me this book) who LOVED Wallace, and subsequently wrote like him -- his style and his affinity for footnotes (in every sentence, it sometimes feels like). And at many points, I thought his [DFW's] writing style was somewhat similar to my own (which makes me now have pity for anyone who's ever read anything [e-mail, letter, article, essay, school report...Goodreads review] I've written.). And yet, I sometimes (often) had troubles following him/his style. Plus, then, often his footnotes would be something snarky like "Don't ask," implying that the history behind a certain concept (that wasn't a main focus, but merely a comment in the text) was too complex to cover. Then why bring it up?? Why do I need a footnote telling me not to ask you about a certain convoluted concept? If I wanted more information about something you didn't go in-depth on, I know how to use a library. And again, it sounds like my style of writing, but here's the one important difference: I DON'T WRITE PROFESSIONALLY. And if I did, I wouldn't put comments like those in my published writing.

But I digress. Anyway, his style, not my cup of tea, at least not in this book. I will say, though, that many (most?) of his footnotes were designated "If you're interested," so at least the reader could know to skip/skim if they aren't really all that interested in the topic at hand. But still, his writing (the footnotes, the digressions within the text, the text itself) made the book way more difficult than I think it needed to be. "Slog" is a good word to describe my time with it.

My other major problem with this book is that he says it's for the layman or someone with *some* math classes in school. Now, I know I'm not the smartest person in the world, but I do know *some* math (with it being my minor, and having been a math tutor for 12+ years), and yet I WAS LOST. A LOT. He kind of talks about the challenges of writing a piece that is simple enough for someone without a math background, and yet interesting enough for someone who does have that technical math knowledge; I just know that he lost me a lot (hence the skimming and brain glazing over), which means it was too technical for someone with even some amount of math background. Plus, he gets into REALLY technical math, and a lot of times I couldn't figure out (or forgot) how they related to infinity. (I know they do, but he was just so mired in math, and technical math, and set theory, and on and on, that I forgot that this was all supposed to come back around to the idea of infinity.)

I thought To Infinity and Beyond was a much (MUCH!) better book about infinity. (But even with that, DFW criticizes other "pop culture" math books, saying they gloss over things, or misrepresent things [like Cantor's mental issues and his study of infinity], and I kept wondering if Eli Maor's book was one of those. Damn you, DFW!)...more

A discussion of the mathematics/discoveries of infinity, and how the concept of infinity has affected religion, art, music, and science. Being me, I eA discussion of the mathematics/discoveries of infinity, and how the concept of infinity has affected religion, art, music, and science. Being me, I especially found the math and art portions interesting, especially because there are a whole lot of references (and even a chapter) to M.C. Escher.

A high enough 3 stars that I gave it 4 stars, although it might have really been more like 3.75 stars....more

The book begins as a history of the number zero (or the lack of it in early cultures), then moves into how zero relates to science (physics, black holThe book begins as a history of the number zero (or the lack of it in early cultures), then moves into how zero relates to science (physics, black holes, etc.). The last part kind of lost me, but the chapters that were strictly about the math-side of the number really grabbed me (Oh, math, how I *heart* you.)....more

Math geekiness -- yum! This was a nice history of what's been dubbed "Fermat's Last Theorem" (that x^n + y^n = z^n ONLY works for squares) and the 199Math geekiness -- yum! This was a nice history of what's been dubbed "Fermat's Last Theorem" (that x^n + y^n = z^n ONLY works for squares) and the 1996 proof of it, as well as some history of math and different branches of math studies.

A really nice history, and a quick read, too. Some of the math went over my head, but it was explained in such a way that I was at least able to understand the gist of the math, and why it was important to the proving of the Theorem....more

This book talks more about the history of math than it does specifically about the number e, but that was just fine with me. The downside, though, wasThis book talks more about the history of math than it does specifically about the number e, but that was just fine with me. The downside, though, was how inadequate it made me feel at times. Once upon a time, I knew smart(ish) math things, but it's been so long, that I've forgotten most of it! Argh!...more

Good examples, good problems. Sometimes the explanations didn't help as much as I'd like them to, and sometimes the problems were overly-repetitive. SGood examples, good problems. Sometimes the explanations didn't help as much as I'd like them to, and sometimes the problems were overly-repetitive. Still, good....more