So, how did 164 pages of random questions become a bestseller? - Features - Books - The Independent

So, how did 164 pages of random questions become a bestseller?

Surreal, hypnotic and unique, the new book by American writer and academic Padgett Powell is a surprise literary hit. In this extract, he embarks on his epic journey of inquiry

Are your emotions pure? Are your nerves adjustable? How do you stand in relation to the potato? Should it still be Constantinople?

Does a nameless horse make you more nervous or less nervous than a named horse? In your view, do children smell good? If before you now, would you eat animal crackers? Could you lie down and take a rest on a pavement? Did you love your mother and father, and do Psalms do it for you? If you are relegated to last place in every category, are you bothered enough to struggle up? Does your doorbell ever ring? Is there sand in your craw? Could Mendeleyev place you correctly in a square on a chart of periodic identities, or would you resonate all over the board? How many push-ups can you do?

Are you inclined to favour the Windward Islands or the Leeward Islands? Does a man wearing hair tonic and chewing gum suggest criminality, or are you drawn to his happy-go-lucky charm? Are you familiar with the religious positions taken regarding the various hoofs of animals? Under what circumstance, or set of circumstances, might you noodle for a catfish? Will you spend more money for better terry cloth? Is sugar your thing? If a gentle specimen of livestock passed you by en route to its slaughter, would you palm its rump? Are you disturbed by over-technical shoes? Are you much taken by jewellery? Do you recall the passion you had as an undergraduate for philosophy? Do you have a headache?

Why won't the aliens step forth to help us? Did you know that Native American mothers suckled their children to age five, merely bending at the waist to feed them afield? Have you ever witnessed the playing of shuffleboard at a nudist colony? If tennis courts could be of but one surface, which surface should that be? In your economics, are you, generally, laissez-faire or socialist? If you could design the flag for a nation, what colour or colours would predominate?

Should a tree be pruned? Are you perplexed by what to do with underwear whose elastic is spent but which is otherwise in good shape? Do you dance? Is having collected Coke bottles for deposit money part of the fond stuff of your childhood? Have you inadvertently hurt, or killed, animals? Would you eat carrion? When it comes to pillows, are you a down man or feather? Are you a man? Will you place $200 in the traditional red envelope and give it to me? Have you ever had to concern yourself with the imminence of freezing water pipes or deal with frozen water pipes? How is your health? If it might be fairly said that you have hopes and fears, would you say you have more hopes than fears, or more fears than hopes? Are all of your affairs in order? Would you have the slightest idea, if we somehow started over, how to reinvent the radio or even the telephone? Do you recall the particular manila rubber buttons in the garters that held up ladies' hose before the invention of pantyhose? Who would you say is the best quarterback of all time? Between an automobile mechanic and a psychologist, which is worth more to you per hour?

Are you happy? Are you given to wondering if others are happy? Do you know the distinctions, empirical or theoretical, between moss and lichen? Have you seen an animal lighter on its feet than the sporty red fox? Do you cut slack for the crime of passion as opposed to its premeditated cousin? Do you understand why the legal system would? Are you bothered by socks not matching up in subtler respects than colour? Is it clear to you what I mean by that? Is it clear to you why I am asking you all these questions? Is, in general, would you say, much clear to you at all, or very little, or are you somewhere in between in the murky sea of prescience? Should I say murky sea of presence of mind? Should I go away? Leave you alone? Should I bother but myself with the interrogative mood?

Can you ride a bicycle very well? Was learning to ride one for you as a child easy or not? Have you had the pleasure of teaching a child to ride a bicycle? Are your emotions rich and various and warm, or are they small and pinched and brittle and cheap and like spit? Do you trust even yourself? Isn't it – forgive me this pop locution – hard being you? If you could trade out and be, say, Godzilla, wouldn't you jump on it, dear? Couldn't you then forgo your bad haircuts and dour wardrobe and moping ways and begin to have some fun, as Godzilla? What might we have to give you to induce you to become Godzilla and leave us alone? Shall we await your answer?

Do you ever suffer that sinus condition that effects exactly the sound of a raccoon in your head? Are you as much fascinated as I by the science and indeed art of artillery? Are you as much put off as I by the phrase "science and art", and more put off by the phrase "science and indeed art"? Who is your favourite painter?

Is your appreciation of a good material thing – let us say that pearl-handled revolver there – influenced by having worked hard to get it, or are you as likely to value a good thing having come by it easily? Do you value coherence of argument? Do you favour a day of the week? Have I told you that I have taken refuge in and, verily, succour from the Shodlik Palace in Tashkent, Uzbekistan? How much weight should a child porter be required to carry? Do you ever wonder after the stories stolen in Mr Hemingway's valise on the platform in Paris? That he had no copies, that he had so many bags he could not keep track of them – are not these facts but proof of a boor and a brute who deserved it? Do you know what I mean by "it"?

Do you wish, as we all do, that you had a sunnier disposition? Would you like to learn to lift weights? Are you comforted by the assertion that there are yet people on Earth who know what they are doing? Or, like me, do you subscribe to the notion that people who knew what they were doing began to die off in about 1945 and are now on the brink of extinction? That they have been replaced by fakes and poseurs? That in 10 more years, when everyone rides a Segway talking on mobile phones embedded in their iTeeth, the clueless world will be painfully immanent? That a large number of the world's folk will be fervently annihilating themselves, if they have not already starved, and a small number of the world's folk will be excited by rapid online acquisition of an exorbitant T-shirt? Have you used the Tibet Almond Stick from the Zenith Chemical Works in Chicago on fine furniture? Would a good paper airplane give you a soupçon of pleasure? Provided you were given assurances that you would not be harmed by the products of either, would you rather spend time with a terrorist or with a manufacturer of breakfast cereal? What in your view is the ideal complexion for a cow? Is there a natural law that draws a plastic bag to an infant similar to the law that draws a tornado to a mobile home? Do you understand exactly what is meant by custard? Would it be better if things were better, and worse if things were worse, or better if things were worse and worse if things were better?

'The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?' is published by Profile Books (£9.99). To order a copy for the special price of £8.99 (free P&P), call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600 030, or visitwww.independentbooksdirect.co.uk.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week