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Sneak Peek: “Exercises in Style”

In early December, New Directions will publish a new edition of Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau, literature’s equivalent to a mad scientist. Queneau took a simple plot — a moment of confusion on a bus — and retold it in ninety-nine different ways, each version a stylistic wonder, from "Sonnets" to "Onomatopoeia" and "Animism." The result is a masterpiece of experimental fiction, which was then gorgeously translated by Barbara Wright. For Exercises in Style’s 65th anniversary, we wanted to somehow honor it with more than the usual thoroughfare of a new cover and introduction. So here’s what we’ve included:

• Previously unpublished exercises: Translator Christopher Gordon Clarke offers twenty-five previously unpublished exercises by Queneau, including “Science Fiction," ”Promotional,” and “Oil.”

Tribute exercises: Some of our favorite contemporary authors writing their own exercises.
“Instructions” — Jesse Ball
“Doppelgangers" — Blake Butler
“Viscera” — Amelia Gray
“Assistance” — Shane Jones
“Cyberpunk” — Jonathan Lethem
“Nothing” — Ben Marcus
“For Zeu Frentch” — Harry Mathews
“Contingencies” — Lynne Tillman
“Beat” — Frederic Tuten
“Metaliterario” — Enrique Vila-Matas, translated by Anne McLean

The restored classic cover: Below is our slightly modified version of the 1958 edition published by Gaberbachus in London. (The original New Directions edition is based on this.) Note that the handwritten type on the cover is by the same illustrator who drew the iconic, exercising people letters found within the book, Franciszka Themerson.


Stay tuned for more Exercises in Style-related content, including an conversation between OULIPO member and Believer editor Daniel Levin Becker and translator Christopher Gordon Clarke.