November 28, 2005

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

by Scott Rettberg · , 5:41 pm

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.

7 Responses to “Winter Break Reading Update: Oulipo Compendium, Hayles, and Castronova”

  1. nick Says:

    I had seen the 1998 edition and often coveted it

    Yeah, good thing I’ve had my copy securely attached to that chain.

    Sounds like a nice stack of reading material – I’ll look forward to hearing about your course and about the Hayles and Castronova books. And, of course, to seeing you soon in Denmark.

  2. jeremy hunsinger Says:

    yep, i’ve had my oulippo companion and book of surrealist games for quite some time now. they are the handiest things for getting beyond appearances and into the constructions behind appearances.

  3. Søren Pold Says:

    Which book of surrealist games is this?
    The Oulipo compendium is wonderful – will look for the new version. Combine it with Florian Cramer’s Words Made Flesh

  4. Dean Blobaum Says:

    You can read an excerpt from My Mother Was a Computer at

    And an interview with Edward Castronova is at

    Hope you enjoy the books.

  5. David Snyder Says:

    If anyone’s in the Philadelphia area, Katherine Hayles is going to be speaking tomorrow (11/30)
    and Thursday (12/1) at Villanova.

  6. Ara Shirinyan Says:

    Scott, I have republished the Compendium in America,

    you can get a copy at



  7. scott Says:

    I just saw note of this on the Spineless Books list. I also note the titles by Kenny Goldsmith, Ian Monk, Raymond Federman, and Aram Saryon. Make Now looks like an excellent endeavor. Congratulations.

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