The Book of Numbers is a new book by Joshua Cohen, the author of three other novels, various volumes of short fiction, and much literary criticism. It is a sort of techno-thriller, like Jurassic Park.

The protagonist of The Book of Numbers is named Joshua Cohen, and that protagonist is himself writing a book about another guy, also named Joshua Cohen. The Book of Numbers has been exceptionally well-reviewed. “Alive with talk and dense with data,” Dwight Garner writes, “Joshua Cohen’s novel Book of Numbers reads as if Philip Roth’s work were fired into David Foster Wallace’s inside the Hadron particle collider.” Cohen is like David Foster Wallace, Garner says, because “his mind seems to have a dozen tabs open at any one time.” On the back of the book, Norman Rush calls it “astounding.”

Never one to disagree with Rush, Gawker here presents 25 excerpts from the “single best novel yet written about what it means to remain human in the Internet Era” (Adam Ross).

  1. The Factchecker changed by the party, the season. Any fuckable female publishing professional could be The Factchecker—if it could be proven that she was between the ages of 18 and 26, and that she had fucked precisely zero people since arriving in NY.
  2. Language itself is a burqa, an abaya—so many new words!...The garments that blacken even the tarmac, that blacken the lobby (irreligiously lavish). Words are garb. They’re cloaks. They conceal the body beneath. Lift up the hems of verbiage, peek below its frillies—what’s exposed? The hairy truth?
  3. If you’re reading this on a screen, fuck off.
  4. A girl bordelloized to impress asked, “When’s Lady Gaga showing?” A ranchhanded guy said, “It’s Dylan & Jagger,” and the girl asked, “Who’s that?”
  5. An Asian, an Arab, and an Indian, all speaking together in question marks like white girls.
  6. Still, I couldn’t get no satisfaction—the leaves rasping hey hey hey. Cause I tried, and I tried, and I tried, and I treed—to distinguish between the rustic and the epic public style private art: a Calder stabile like a girdered ferruginous rhododendron, and what was either a Richard Serra or a Donald Judd or a boulder.
  7. I didn’t have a weapon, I was freelance.
  8. At the door was a knock and a black but white goth buff transgender person entered—an XX or an XY or a chromosomally spliced Ze bearing a metal tray.
  9. The natives were Arabizing and I didn’t understand—anything beyond, they were freaked by the Slav.
  10. “Just us and the fauxgrammers—their English gets a D, and I’d bet even that’s better than their C++.”
  11. Some Ukes, some Poles, Czechs and Slovaks, Yugos, but the lingua prostituta was Russian.
  12. She had that Asiatic horde hybridity, that Tatar sauce Mongolic mix.
  13. Or he’d been the prodigal abroad, who’d tried to stick it to every busted ugly daughter of the 20th Earl of Diddlesex, before being recalled and betrothed to a Qatari sheikha who’d never had a wax.
  14. They treated her like an equal, that’s what they swore—that’s the truth of it. Just like everything she writes for her campaigns is true—it has to be. The best electronics won’t obsolesce with their production. The top refrigerator/freezers won’t expire before the eggs inside them.
  15. It’s no neat psych trick to explain why I’m reliving this now[.]
  16. History has always privileged the civilization—shunning nomadism, tribalism, all the existential bachelorhoods.
  17. I consulted on brandings, renamings (what to call a convertible child safety seat/pram for the Latino, or rather Latina 18-49 demographic? what to call a cunt of a Hispanic boss who claimed my “Buggé” as her own?).
  18. The chauffeur—Afric, vitiliginous—tried to wheel my wheelie but Jesus refused him.
  19. She was a wadded tossed abaya, a smutty black abayayaya—trill it through the nose, like a jihad ululant.
  20. I was aroused by a woman wearing a sweaty tent, a woman I don’t know, can’t ever touch to know Biblically let alone get proximal to for a chat in a neutral language—it’s absurd. With a husband too. To whose swart cheek I’d delivered democracy.
  21. I downed trou, tried to get a honker. Tried to beat my cock like it was leukemia.
  22. Her life had been set to Private.
  23. Her featurelessness was of a supernumary tit atop tits, though in her strain to speed ahead a waist was shaped atop that ass. Swishy hips, thighs that rubbed. Becoming again all ass. Even her feet were ass.
  24. And under that sling, her breasts were like young fawns, sheep frolicking in hyssop—Psalms were about to pour out of me.
  25. “Let me help,” Abs said.
    “I got it,” she said, and slumped the guy up against a banister. “Chivalry is misogyny.”
    Then she turned away just as he said, “And chauvinist on a double word score is 36 points in Scrabble.”

Josephine Livingstone is an academic and writer in New York.

Photo via the author