1. You’d think a book composed entirely of random questions would be annoying. Like a kid tugging your sleeve in the middle of a show you’re trying to watch. But it’s not. Partly because Padgett Powell’s questions are all delightful and thought-provoking. As far as random questions go, these are high-quality.
2. It’s hard not to look for meaning in the sequence of questions — “If you had a child, would you read to her every night? Do you own good silver? Do you regard yourself as a connoisseur of anything? What is the most you have ever donated to a charitable cause, and what was the cause? Have you chosen the way you’d like to die? What profession to your mind represents grown men being boys? Can you distinguish a species of duck by their flight profiles? Is a red-checked tablecloth an agreeable unironic symbol to you or one that invites cynicism?” — even though the sequence is supposed to be meaningless.
3. The range of questions that Powell asks does a good job of approximating the incredible range of ideas that always pop into our heads.
4. Powell loves to tweak our expectations of where a sentence is going: “Do you know the delicate powdery tinfoil used to wrap individual sticks of chewing gum—is it not the case that this foil is very slightly quilted?”
5. A question is automatically kind of flattering. It wants to know what we think. Like the barrage of messages we get these days about “personalizing” our “preferences” and crap like that. Our banks, our restaurants, our TV stations—they all say that you, and you alone, are the star of the show! Your answers really matter! This book seems to be skewering that kind of bullshit.
6. According to a note in the book, Powell originally wrote these questions as a snarky rejoinder to a colleague. Then it turned into a story at The Paris Review. Then it turned into a book. All of which is a good example of how writing isn’t about tackling a single, monumental project; it’s about developing a certain habit of mind, being disciplined about using it, and then just seeing what happens.