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Praise for Perec's inquisitive spirit in The Millions review of The Art Of Asking Your Boss For A Raise

Morgan Buck20 April 2011

In a review published today of Georges Perec's The Art of Asking Your Boss For A Raise, Anne K. Yoder opens with one of the book's quintessential (and oft-repeated) mantras: "Let's keep things simple, for we must do our best to keep things simple, otherwise we would be utterly lost."

Yoder goes on, following in Perec's stylistic footsteps, to examine The Art in ten succinct points. Keenly simple, the article's structure accentuates Yoder's perceptive observations on Perec's philosphy and approach to writing:

3. Fiction like this, that follows the structure of a computer program, is called "matrix literature." A situation is presented, the answer is either yes or no, and the next move depends entirely on the answer. Either your boss (mr x) is in his office or he isn't, either his secretary (miss wye) is at her desk and willing to shoot the breeze or she's not.

4. However, Perec avoids sounding stiff or unyielding by adding a human element to the structure. He supplies the flesh and spirit to the skeleton, if you will, by capturing the dreary weight of routine, by showing the maddening lengths one will go to in order to predict the precise moment that the boss is available and fortune leans ever so slightly in one's favor. There are some truths to glean from all of this: even a computer program cannot circumvent the poor mental and physical health of your superior and his family, both of which have more sway than ill-timed pleas. A boss's constant unavailability results in discovering many imaginative ways to kill time. Office life can be measured in strolls and "chin wags" with secretaries. Opportunity rarely exists and is often missed.

5. In Perec's essay "Approaches to What?" included in his book Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, he outlines his interest in the quotidian. The main concern set forth in this essay (and demonstrated in this book) is, "How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs every day: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infraordinary, the background noise, the habitual?" His answer is to dwell on our routines, to realize the intricacies of the everyday, to question the ordinary: "What we need to question is bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our tools, the way we spend out time, our rhythms. To question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us."

Visit The Millions to read the review in full.