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The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:


Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

Shop though these links = Support this site


Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

FSG’s About Face on the My Struggle Covers

Apparently the abomination is over: as Michael points out, the market has spoken, and it hates the original paperback covers for My Struggle, so FSG has gone with a change of design. Here’s how they compare.

Old (Lord have mercy!!):

New:

True, these new covers are boring as hell and reflect the InDesign skills of roughly 95% of current high school seniors, but, by God, I think at this point we’ll all gladly accept non-offensively dull over the carnival-madman-vomit aesthetic of the originals.

I admit, I’m sad in a way. I really wanted to see how that gigantic hand would look holding a big number 6. And there was an undeniable camaraderie to spotting one in a store and spontaneously bursting into laughter along with the dude who just happened to be standing next to you. Oh well.

Searching for the Self

A very insightful reading of Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? at The Point.

Sheila and Margaux suffer from complementary forms of philosophical confusion. Sheila’s tendency to think of the self primarily in external terms, which never translate into what she wants them to be internally, is met by Margaux’s strong sense of her inner self, which in turn is threatened when translated into the outside world. How Should a Person Be? is hence more than a simple self-help book masquerading as a novel. Rather, it imaginatively stages both sides of a profound philosophical problem: Where is the self? While a literary work cannot provide unequivocal philosophical answers to such a question, Heti is nonetheless able to show us the way in which both Sheila and Margaux’s positions are confused. Sheila’s confusion is itself a feature of the narrative, and is more or less explicitly resolved towards the end of the book. Margaux’s confusion, on the other hand, finds a subtler resolution in the book’s form, and the relation into which it invites readers.

The manner in which the book approaches the question of the self could hence be seen as a kind of imaginative philosophy. Rather than approach philosophy argumentatively, the novel imagines it in all its connections to our everyday lives. What does a philosophical problem look like when it becomes real for us? What does it mean to live through such a problem? But this method of “imagining” philosophy is also a way of actually doing it. We find solutions to philosophical problems when the inherent confusion of a certain way of life becomes apparent. Sometimes what it takes is to try to live that confusion, and to fail. This can be occasion for another act of imagination—one that explores how our way of seeing the world and our way of being in it can fit back together.

Travel Notes (from here—to there) by Stanley Crawford

Calamari Press has recently reissued the long-out-of-print Travel Notes (from here—to there) by Stanley Crawford (whom you might recognize as the author of the Log of the S.S. the Mrs Unguentine).

The LARB has a nice review of this book that doubles as an overview on Crawford:

STANLEY CRAWFORD’S CAREER has been as strange and surreal as many of his novels. As a young writer in the 1960s, published by such powerhouses as Simon & Schuster and Knopf, Crawford found that the all-powerful New York Times book section of the day met his books with both acclaim and perplexity. The paper of record described his first novel, Gascoyne (1966; reissued by Overlook Press in 2005) as a “a satiric phantasmagoria” and pronounced it “wonderful.” Richard Lester planned to film this absurdist story of a man controlling a Los Angeles-like city from the confines of his car. Two years later Crawford published Some Instructions to My Wife, in which another insanely controlling narrator laid out detailed instructions for how his house was to be run and his children raised.

Writing in The New York Times, the novelist Stanley Elkin was not amused by Travel Notes, finding its absurdist humor and non-sequiturs to be “arbitrary” instead of inventive. Crawford eventually moved to New Mexico to run a garlic farm (about which he wrote two memoirs), while continuing to publish and to see some of his earlier work re-published, all the while quietly building a kind-of cult following in the next generation.

In 2008, for instance, Dalkey Archive Press reissued Crawford’s Log of the S.S. The Mrs. Unguentine with an introduction by Ben Marcus. Marcus asserts that in 1972, the year of the book’s publication . . .

And a piece on the book in Full-Stop:

These strategies, of course, are designed to capture the disorientation of all foreign travel, the destabilizing, often hilarious, experience of being in a place where language, simple customs, politics, even love, operate according to laws you’re not privy to. For Crawford’s narrator, travel’s one consistent law is that the tourist must constantly play catch up. Foreign objects stay so alien to him they’re literally protean, capable even of shapeshifting mid-sentence:

Then I discovered a telephone behind the desk (cemetery, rather) and was going to call for — help, I suppose, in spite of the language difficulty — when the telephone receiver began to melt in my hand, melt, I repeat — for it was made out of a very flavorful chocolate.

Many of these images, such as one scene where the narrator finds himself in a totally silent city waiting in a line that leads to the front of a firing squad, resonate with a signature haunting energy. But if the fluctuating landscapes and hallucinatory palpitations were meant solely to show us that traveling is weird, Travel Notes would be a fairly simple book. And it’s not. In Crawford’s seemingly haywire progression, we stumble across hints of tiny patterns, recurrent images — doubles, objects taken apart and reassembled, bureaucrats seated at isolated desks, The Païnted Wōman. Just enough to tempt us to connect them, though it’s impossible to know how. We also catch glimpses of possible historical references — an uprising in the first section plays out like an absurdist account (complete with a cherry pie assassination) of the 1967 military coup in Greece, which occurred while Crawford was living on Crete.

Capital in the 21st Century

Long-time readers to this blog know that I very, very rarely talk about books that are not directly related to literary fiction in this space. There are various reasons for that, but it’s a practice that I’ve tried to keep pretty consistent here.

So, it’s kind of a big deal that I’m going to go all out and beg you to read Capital in the 21st Century.And I’ll even make you this promise—yes, this is a book about economics that mostly deals with income inequality, but it also tells a compelling, genuinely new story about the 20th . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Two on Sergei Dovlatov

James Wood at The New Yorker:

“POLITICAL WORK OUGHT TO BE CONCRETE”: this is one of the rousing Soviet mottos recalled in Sergei Dovlatov’s novel, The Zone. Ironically, it is also what is said about good writing, and can one think of a more concrete contemporary writer than Dovlatov? Sentences compacted to aphoristic ingots: “One is born either poor or rich. Money has almost nothing to do with it.” Paradox, sharp wit, and swift one-liners: “Boris sober and Boris drunk are such different people, they’ve never even met.” Or: “What could I say to him? What do . . . continue reading, and add your comments

The Fare Forward Reading at The Strand

So a little background: the poet Laura Simms is publishing this book called Fare Forward, which is basically her correspondence with the great innovative novelist David Markson. She recently did an event with Ann Beattie at The Strand where she discussed the book and Markson in general.

Here’s the video from the event. Definitely a thing to check out for the Markson fans in the audience.

Amzon Owns Your Ebooks

Anyone who buys Kindle books is giving Amazon the right to steal what they think is their property at any moment Amazon wants. There’s no reason to do it when you can generally get an ePub file without a lot of extra hassle.

According to Martin Bekkelund, a Norwegian Amazon customer identified only as Linn had her Kindle access revoked without warning or explanation. Her account was closed, and her Kindle was remotely wiped. Bekkelund has posted a string of emails that he says were sent to Linn by the company. They are a sort of . . . continue reading, and add your comments

How to Make a David Mitchell Novel Sound Terrible

Let the PR flacks at Random House write about him.

“The Bone Clocks” will be, Random House writes, “a stunning epic that follows Holly Sykes, who runs away from her home in Southwest England in 1984 and 60 years later is raising her granddaughter on the coast of Ireland, as almost everything about her world has changed forever. In between Holly and the people who love her move between the Swiss alps in 1991, war-torn Baghdad in 2004, and New York a decade in the future, where she joins a band of vigilantes in a supernatural war . . . continue reading, and add your comments

On Hilda Hilst

Adam Z. Levy covers Hilda Hilst at Music & Literature. Definitely one of the more interesting discoveries of the past year or so. The most recent one to be translated is With My Dog-Eyes, publishing later this month from Melville House.

By the time of her death, in 2004, Hilda Hilst had garnered fame for the whole of her oeuvre—including Brazil’s most prestigious literary prizes—and notoriety for the filthiness of her final books. Her body of work, which includes poetry, plays, and prose, is as wide-ranging as it is defiantly avant-garde, yet, despite the accolades, her . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Explaining the Knausgaard Publishing Situation

There seems to be a tiny bit of confusion so here’s the deal:

1. Archipelago is doing the hardcovers, FSG is doing the paperbacks.

2. However, Archipelago started publishing Knausgaard before this agreement was made, so they actually did a paperback of Book 1, which has since been discontinued.

3. Yes, the FSG covers are ugly as fuck. True fact: I’ve never met anyone who liked them. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who didn’t violently hate them. If anyone can explain them to us, please enlighten us. (Apologies to the designer, whom I’m sure is . . . continue reading, and add your comments