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

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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.

  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić September 15, 2014
    As Drndić reiterates throughout the novel, “Behind every name there is a story.” And Haya Tedeschi’s story is draped in death. Born to a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism and tacitly supported the Fascists in Italy, Haya was a bystander to the Holocaust. She attended movies while Jews and partisans were transported to concentration camps; she pored […]
  • The Tree With No Name by Drago Jančar September 15, 2014
    At the opening of chapter 87—the first chapter found in The Tree with No Name—Janez Lipnik finds himself up a tree, shoeless, and lost in the Slovenian countryside. He makes his way to a house where he is taken in by a woman teacher who is waiting for her lover, a soldier. It becomes clear we are at the height of World War II. Soon after, we follow Lipnik […]
  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
    Here, at the midpoint of his narrative, Bernhard, the affectless and purposeless protagonist of "The Unseen," experiences existential near-emancipation at dusk. This retreat toward obscurity in terse, direct language—thematic and stylistic markers of each work in the collection—comes immediately after Bernhard’s sister mentions her plans to enterta […]
  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
    In his new book of essays, Berlin Now, Peter Schneider reveals himself as a gnarled Cold Warrior who has been stricken with many of the maladies common to his generation. With the specter of Communism exorcized, his new enemy is Islam. The book is a collection of short interlocking pieces introducing Anglophone readers to Berlin; it is not being published in […]
  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
    “It seemed that the [New Yorker] story—which was in part the result of my dealing with the reception of my novel—had been much more widely received than the novel itself,” says the narrator of Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04. Perhaps this narrator is Lerner himself—at one point he describes 10:04, within its own pages, as “neither fiction nor nonfiction but […]
  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting is a masterful work structured around Robert Smithson’s earthwork “The Spiral Jetty.” Olsen’s novel is comprised of three narrations, written each by a separate member of a family. The husband’s and wife’s texts progress in opposite directions across the book, with each page divided among these two inverted texts; though […]
  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
    In The Ants, we receive a study of existence through ants. That is, there are ants everywhere, ants substituted in every segment of the landscape, yet their behavior seems to reveal something altogether human. Too human. The ants are crushed and disappointed. They are warm and many. They are involved in gang wars and live inside carrot cake. The unique quali […]

Two New Cavinos

Collection of Sand has just been published in English in the U.S., as has the Complete Cosmicomics. More Calvino in the world is better.

Here is Ron Slate on Collection of Sand.

Collection of Sand comprises four sections. The first part, “Exhibitions – Explorations,” includes ten pieces that mainly deal with shows and exhibits he visited in Paris: an exhibition of “bizarre” collections (sands, cowbells, train-tickets, toilet-paper packaging, etc.), early maps of the New World, the recreation of an 1856 display of wax monstrosities in wax, cuneiform and hieroglyphics, on the making of Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People,” the significance of knots, and famous writers who also drew. Like most of the essays in the collection, these initially appeared in Italian newspapers.

The second part, which deals with aspects of the visual, begins with a revealing tribute to Barthes, illuminating the mode of the preceding essays and those to follow. Barthes’ work, he says, “consists in forcing the impersonality of our linguistic and cognitive mechanisms to take account of the physicality of the living and mortal subject … the one who subordinated everything to a rigorous methodology and the one who had just one sure criterion, namely pleasure (the pleasure of intelligence and the intelligence of pleasure.)” Precision and pleasure, phrased through the lightness of speculation, are Calvino’s attributes as well.

One finds these qualities in his essay “The Written City” which considers the “visible writing” of ancient Rome and medieval cities. . . .

And Michael Dirda on the Cosmicomics:

As McLaughlin notes, the cosmicomics were influenced by Lewis Carroll and Borges, philosophy and cartoons. “The Origin of the Birds,” for instance, is imagined as a series of panels in a comic book. Still, none of Calvino’s stories is truly whimsical; they possess a dryness of tone, as well as a logician’s compulsion to run through every possible permutation or implication of any line of thought. But as Qfwfq says, “If you aren’t going to be patient there’s no use in my trying to explain.” These are, after all, scientific fairy tales by an admirer of Samuel Beckett who was also a member of the mathematically oriented Oulipo­ school of writers.

Not surprisingly, contemporary literary allusions abound in the cosmicomics. In “Nothing and Not Much,” Qfwfq talks about “a time when it was only in the chinks of emptiness, the absences, the silences, the gaps, the missing connections, the flaws in time’s fabric, that I could find meaning and value.”

Those who studied literary theory in the 1970s will recognize this nod to Jacques Derrida, who argued for the importance of what went unsaid in any poem or story. . . .

“a plant that grew out of a dung heap”

Best post-Nobel piece I’ve read on Patrick Modiano.

Modiano’s aim has been to place his own personal history against a broader social backdrop. He has called himself “a plant that grew out of a dung heap”, and, more directly, at least at first, “a product of the Occupation, the time when one could simultaneously be a trafficker of black market, a gestapiste of the Lauriston street and a pursued man. It is in this time when I met my father, a cosmopolitan Jew, and my mother, a comedian of Belgian origin, in the pre-war cinema”. (Modiano’s first language was Flemish; his parents split soon after the war.) The reference to meeting his own parents before he was born is partly clarified by a comment in Livret de Famille (1977), not yet in English: “my memory precedes my birth. I am convinced, for example, that I have first-hand experience of Paris during the Occupation since I can recall certain characters from this time, together with some intimate and disturbing details, which go unmentioned in the history books.”

Modiano’s characters often try to find peace in the present through a reckoning with the past, though past and present are never allowed to be wholly separate. Thriller mechanics often yield an existential outcome, though rarely a conclusive one. The ultimate Modiano sentence can be found in Missing Person, in which an out-of-work private eye investigates his own forgotten past: “And in this labyrinthine maze of buildings, staircases and lifts, among these hundreds of cubbyholes, I found a man who perhaps. . . ” Worst case scenario of the quest for closure and salvation is realised in Un Cirque Passe (1992), not yet translated, when the narrator writes: “It was at number 14 du la rue Raffet. But the topographical details had a peculiar effect on me: far from bringing images of the past closer and clearer, they brought a heartbreaking sensation of broken ties and emptiness.” Directories and documents are often invoked in his novels, recorded fact being memory made stable–or promising to be.

As well as forming part of the narrative turn in post-Robbe-Grillet French fiction, Modiano is also strongly associated with “la mode rétro”, the historical turn in French culture as a whole, which dispelled Gaullist myths about the resistance, revealing instead how les années noires haunted les trente glorieuses. Modiano has expressed guilt about typing away during the period of student and worker revolt but as it turned out, his project dovetailed with this movement by showing in extensive detail, often derived from archival sources, the extent of French collaboration. Modiano was an early contributor to a revisionist project that included Marcel Ophuls’s long documentary The Sorrow and the Pity (1971) and Robert Paxton’s book Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944, published in 1972 and translated into French the following year.

Back to the Beginning

A nice review of Lila at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

So when I tell you that Lila ends with a birth, if you are anything like me, your first read of this novel will be vaguely agitated. Not because it is unclear what will happen (this is no spoiler: we know from Gilead that there will be a child and that both he and Lila will live), but rather because across nearly 1,000 pages and over 30 years of reading Robinson, we have not yet encountered a depiction of pregnancy and parturition: the violent wrenching of the self apart from its most beloved. Here Robinson takes us to the paradoxical truth about giving birth: the act that is most socially domesticating is also the most profoundly wilding.

By bringing this female waywardness into the Gilead world, Robinson prompts us to return to the dualities that underpin Housekeeping — transience and home, domesticity and wildness, the ordinary and the strange, taking care and doing damage. Gilead and Home feature men who inhabit domesticity as a sort of faith and for whom faith serves an important sheltering function. The itinerant central women of Housekeeping and Lila press hard on the tender buttons of their benevolent theology: what becomes of those who live their lives outside of these structures?

In Gilead, Ames wonders “what birds did before there were telephone wires. It would have been much harder for them to roost in the sunlight, which is a thing they clearly enjoy doing.” In Lila, a lesson that Ames intuits but never fully articulates becomes clear: one shouldn’t mistake a brief and warmed rest from flight, for an animal’s natural state.

Linda Boström Knausgaard

The Literary Saloon reports that a book by Linda Boström Knausgaard will soon be making its way to the English language. Yes, that name should look familiar to you.

In The Bookseller Anna James reports that Visser of De Geus launches English language publisher — which is to be called World Editions. (The current World Editions site doesn’t quite capture the English-language-publication version that’s coming.)

They kindly sent me ARCs of their forthcoming (in early 2015) first four volumes and it’s a promising start. The most notable title is Linda Boström Knausgård’s The Helios Disaster (see, . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Some Thoughts on the Nobel as Institution

Jacobin has an interesting, if problematic take on the Nobel Prize in Literature as an institution. The thrust of it is that the Literature Prize as it currently stands is a golem-esque creation of transnational capitalism, serving its needs by highlighting those authors that play to the humanistic, liberal ideals (which everyone in Stockholm, and probably Europe, knows are universal). It does so by books that are fit for global consumption and that feed in to a very particular image of the author as a lone outsider, completely detached from any present political realities.

Okay, okay, there’s . . . continue reading, and add your comments

10:04 by Ben Lerner

After reading many, many translations, I am attempting to catch up with developments in mainstream American prose; i.e., the “big names” in American fiction. The last book I read in this vein was The Flamethrowers, which I liked to a point.

Now up, Ben Lerner’s new novel 10:04.

I view this book as a very ambitious failure. If we are to believe the backstory presented in the book itself—that it grew out of a story published in The New Yorker on June 18, 2012—then it was written extremely quickly, maybe in as little as a . . . continue reading, and add your comments

The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness

Rebecca Solnit has a new essay collection publishing from Trinity University Press: The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness.

Kirkus offers an early review:

In her latest collection of previously published essays, Solnit (Men Explain Things to Me, 2014, etc.) explores troubled and troubling spaces and places that illuminate her concerns about community and power.

How, asks the author, do individuals express their sense of connection to one another when they respond to disasters, such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the BP oil spill, and the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan? How do communities come together . . . continue reading, and add your comments

The Lot of the World Famous Translator in Japan

I have to say, it’s perfect that Murakami does translation in the afternoon to relax after a morning of writing.

Murakami of course knows that he needs to be translated in order to be read widely. He is very conscious of the power of translation, being himself one of Japan’s most important translators of American literature. He has long collaborated with Motoyuki Shibata, a well-known professor of English literature at the University of Tokyo, who has his own flourishing career as a translator. Of course, both men are admired as great stylists in Japanese, and that attracts . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Debut Novel of the Year?

Nice piece on The Wallcreeper by Jonathon Sturgeon.

Also, before I get to the blockquote, how awful is it that currently the only Amazon review of this book is a one-star review by someone identifying as “Chris Roberts, God,” which includes the nonsensical line ” A blurb from a famous writer will not capitulate your book…” as well as the always-obnoxious “The author’s prose is not reader friendly…” Please, somebody do something to change that.

Anyway, onto Jonathon’s piece:

Not much is known about Nell Zink: this much is confirmed by the scant publicity materials and . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

My review of Lila by Marilynne Robinson runs this weekend at the San Francisco Chronicle.

The genteel genre of the newspaper review doesn’t really permit me to say these sorts of things, so this is one of the things that a blog is for: READ MARILYNNE ROBINSON!!!!! Really. I am quite convinced that she is one of the great American thinkers of her generation. Read the novels (duh) and read the essays too. Taken together, they are a remarkable body of work, a deep and satisfying examination of the American project—spirituality, as we understand it, and . . . continue reading, and add your comments