08 February 2011

Life-like reading list 2: Puzzle novels

I'm sharing the second list I made for a "name your top 10" contest in July of last year. Actually I joined an earlier contest ran by Words Without Borders in January 2010, with the same book prize, Life A User's Manual. This first attempt was unsuccessful. (Also, it was too late to discover in May The Wolves, the then-Unstructured Reading Group, who already discussed the Perec in April.)

The following "puzzle novels" do not share a set of rigid attributes. A much looser, playful category, in fact. They can be variations on a theme (Exercises in Style), fragmentary chapters or pieces that can be read in a variety of ways (as in choose-your-own-misadventure type of books like Hopscotch and The Unfortunates), or simply novels based on or featuring a game (The Master of Go, A Void). Often, these are pastiche novels, puzzle-like. Their common denominator? They are puzzling. :)

Top Ten Puzzle Books

1. The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

2. Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar

3. The Engineer of Human Souls by Josef Škvorecký

4. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau

5. The Unfortunates by B. S. Johnson

6. A Void by Georges Perec

7. The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges

8. The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata

9. Chess Story by Stefan Zweig

10. The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse


  1. another great list read two of these rise ,unfortunates and glass bead game ,got human souls and void on my tbr pile ,all the best stu

  2. Stu, I have The Unfortunates, too! Beautiful binding. The "book-in-a-box" is a clever concept.

  3. I've read the Perec and Zweig from this list and hope to read two to three more this year starting with the Cortázar and Pessoa. Somebody needs to support me so I can read full-time!

  4. Have read only Pessoa's poetry, but have just purchased B.S JOhnson's christie malry's own double-entry from Amazon. The Master of Go is a fantastic book, and Jorge Luis borges book The Book of Sand & Gold of the Tigers is one of my favourites. Lovely list.

  5. Same here, Richard. I wish I planned to become an editor, proofreader, or book reviewer. Work equals pleasure then. I'm shooting for 2 or 3 books from this list too.

    Parrish, I'm taking note of your endorsements of Kawabata, Borges, and Pessoa. All formidable writers.