Friday, December 28, 2012

Perec-a-palooza

Georges Perec's The Art And Craft Of Approaching Your Head Of Department To Submit A Request For A Raise is exactly the type of book I would have chosen to write an essay about at uni. The main reason I would have chosen it is because the title is so long that reaching the required word count would be an absolute doddle. A secondary fact in the book's favour is that it is only 84 pages long. Added to which, the whole book is one entire, absurdly long sentence with no commas or colons. I cannot think of more perfect undergraduate study fodder.

To be completely honest, it did feel at times a little like I was reading it because I had to. If it had been very much longer I might not have persevered. The gimmick of no full stops is cute, but it certainly makes one appreciate them. Reading a sentence that goes on and on becomes a tad irritating after a while. There were just about enough glimmers of humour to save it, but having read it once I wouldn't bother again. The device is useful as a way of making the reader feel as full of frustration and ennui and soul-deadened as the central character ('you'), but on the downside, it made me feel somewhat frustrated, soul-deadened and full of ennui.

The Art And Craft Of Approaching Your Head Of Department To Submit A Request For A Raise is successful inasmuch as it proves Perec's cleverness and originality as a writer. It is less successful as an enjoyable read. So count yourselves lucky that I went to the trouble to read it and blog about it; you can now discuss the book at dinner parties and thoroughly impress you friends, without having to go through the tedious business of actually reading the thing.


Whatever you think of his hairstyling choices, you certainly can't fault the man's literary inventiveness. I also read Things, A Story Of The Sixties this week, which is a completely different sort of book from The Art and Craft.... It is one of the few re-reads on my Classics Club list.

I first read Things about 15 years ago and loved it. Something about it utterly seduced me, even though I was aware that I was supposed to find the central characters vapid, silly, flakey and somewhat pathetic. In my second reading of the book, I was bowled over by how obviously I had missed the point the first time around but I eventually figured out why. I had read the book as a teenager who was longing for life to happen. Even though the things and events and objects of Things are shown to be meaningless and empty, they were still more colourful and exiting than my life was at that time.

Perec absolutely nails that lust for experience, for stuff and for status, and I think I responded to the feeling of longing for fulfillment as much as anything else. I'm glad I took the time to re-read Things because the experience was so much richer the second time around. It made me think about life and society and experiences and relationships. Read this book: if you feel ponderous, and if you want to feel refreshed.

Perec is most famous for having written an entire novel without using the letter E (A Void). What I think is even more of a head-fuck is that the English translation I have has also been written entirely without the letter E. I am looking forward to reading it sometime in the next few months, after a break from my bout of Perec-a-palooza.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Food, Glorious Food

Last night I ate dinner at Red Chili, one of the best Chinese Sichuan restaurants in Sydney. It is slightly tucked away, so doesn't have the headline factor and queues out the door, but it is always packed. All I have been able to think about since we left is how delicious it was.

I've been thinking a lot about Chinese food lately, in large part due to my new cookbook, Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop. I've been pouring over this book even more than I normally would with a new cookbook; it seems to hold the answers to secrets and riddles that I feel will change my life if I can just figure them out. I have had so much fun choosing a recipe, heading off to Chinatown and sourcing strange new ingredients. Upon returning home with the loot, the process of cooking is super-easy and sizzlingly fast and exciting, and the result has been Food Heaven every single time.

Dunlop's name on the cover of a magazine in a bookshop window thus caught my eye, and I am mighty glad it did. Lucky Peach; The China Town Issue is a great read. It is published by McSweeneys and other contributors include Harold McGee and Anthony Bourdain. It's just lovely to read about people's food memories, recipes, experiments and musings in such a fresh and smug-less way.

I am slowly chipping away at a few other things, most of which are food related. Increasingly, reading about food makes me happy and content with life. Perhaps it's the interactive potential, perhaps it's my greedy appetite, or perhaps it's linked to how food is a soother and comforter in times of uncertainty and distress.

I have just made myself quite hungry looking at google images of "Red Chili Haymarket" to add to this post, but nothing quite fits the bill. Instead, here are some words with which you may create your own image of what we ate last night: Pumpkin deep fried in duck yolk and salt, sizzling chicken stirfry with mixed mushrooms and vegetables, pork ribbons and leek in chili oil.