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.


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

Travel

Things are going to be sporadic around here for a bit. Enjoy the sun, a good book, etc.

Bissell/Vollmann

The writing on this can get pretty annoying at times, but there are some interesting findings in Tom Bissell’s profile of William T. Vollmann. For instance: apparently, Viking is getting a little too tired of Vollmann’s doorstoppers. (And after Last Stories, who can blame them?)

Vollmann told me that Viking, which has been publishing his Dreams for decades, was currently “sadly contemplating” the publication of The Dying Grass, volume five, about the Plains Indian wars of the late nineteenth century. For the first time in Vollmann’s career, Viking had begun to impose page limits in his contracts. For The Dying Grass, the page limit was 700. “I gave them 2,100 and they weren’t super happy,” he said, “so I corrected it to 2,300.” According to Vollmann, the book is composed mostly of dialogue. “It looks like a concrete poem,” he said, “because I treat the printed page as a stage. Since we read from left to right, there might be dialogue which is occurring, say, on the left-hand side of the page, and then maybe in the middle part of the page people are thinking what they actually think as they talk to each other.” It sounded a bit like William Gaddis, except more insane.

I could, however, have done without the bro-ish glorification of Vollmann’s creepy behavior around women (which, actually, given conversations I’ve had with people who know Vollmann, I’d say paints him in a really narrow and unfair light):

The next morning, Vollmann’s model, Lindsay, arrived by bus from San Francisco for her session. “Hey, Goddess,” Vollmann said warmly. “Did you bring a robe?”

Lindsay, a former exotic dancer in her mid-thirties, had not brought a robe. Vollmann suggested that she wear one of Dolores’s robes. “Dolores doesn’t mind,” Vollmann assured her. “She likes it.” While Lindsay went off and changed, Vollmann asked me if I wanted to pick out the music for today’s session. That meant digging through the twin towers of Vollmann’s compact-disc collection. Vollmann’s tastes ran to classical and ’70s-era thought rock: Bowie, Randy Newman, Jethro Tull. After looking through his discs for a while, I said Lindsay should probably pick the music. Once she came back out, barefoot in a thin black and white dress (“You look much prettier in that than Dolores does,” Vollmann said, “but how could you not?”), she popped Lou Reed into Vollmann’s Silurian disc-playing boombox.

He arranged before him the three paintings of Lindsay he was currently working on. One was a portrait, one was a nude, and another was a more impressionistic rendering of her as a gold-sequin-clad angel. All would receive “another layer” today. He’d been at work on these pieces for several months; he’d seen Lindsay at least six or seven times in the last year. Lindsay was a professional sitting model these days; when I asked how many people she sat for, she laughed and said, “Quite a few!”

Then Vollmann began painting. Once again, he told Lindsay she looked beautiful. How salacious—how Terry Richardson—this must sound: an artist repeatedly telling a younger model how beautiful she looks while he paints her in his studio. But it didn’t feel that way to me, and Lindsay pretty clearly adored Vollmann. The afternoon before, at lunch, Vollmann told our waitress he had a question: “How did you get so darn beautiful?” Our waitress, an utterly normal-looking person, laughed and thanked Vollmann for noticing. It felt like a dorky, sweet encounter, but, again, I have no idea how it felt from her end. A man who constantly compliments women could be seen as wielding power over them, especially in social situations shaped by payment or gratuity, which I think is true whether we as men are aware of it or not. “I’ve never seen a woman who isn’t beautiful,” Vollmann said, as he painted. “When I talk to guys who say they had to dump their wives when she turned forty, I always think, ‘Why?’ ” Vollmann would keep on living in his world of clumsy, sword-bent gallantry.

Pound for pound, though, this is brilliance compared to Charles McGrath’s Most Banal Vollmann Profile Ever.

Now We Know Why He Writes the Long Sentences

Fantastic interview here with Ottilie Mulzet, translator of Seiobo There Below and AnimalInside.

One of the great things we learn here is that there are three new Krasznahorkai translations on the way:

Two translations haunt me as we speak. One is Destruction and Sorrow Beneath the Heavens, which I’m translating now. It’s literary reportage based on Krasznahorkai’s extensive travels in China, and, if anything, it’s even more relevant today than when it was first published in 2002. The other is The World Goes On, an amazing collection of short stories. George Szirtes, who won the Best Translated Book Award in 2013, also for a Krasznahorkai title, is translating From the North by Hill, From the South by Lake, From the West by Roads, From the East by River, so readers should have at least three more titles to look forward to in the next few years.

We also learn why Krasznahorkai writes such long sentences, or, at least, how the Hungarian language enables him to do it:

What are the strengths and particularities of Hungarian as a language, and what challenges does it present to translate it into English?

I feel extremely close to Hungarian as a language. I love the sound of it, I love how it works grammatically, I love the vocabulary, the astonishing mishmash of words from so many different languages, I love what writers can do with it. Hungarian is an agglutinative language with vowel harmony—it has seemingly endless suffixes and amazing possibilities for compound words, and it has absolutely flexible word order, depending on what you want to emphasize in the sentence. And I would certainly mention the unbelievable elasticity of Hungarian—it’s like a rubber band. It can expand and expand, until you think, Well, this rubber band is going to break at any moment now, or it can shrink into just a few sparse words, where all the most important parts are left out and you just have to know.

English, despite how global it is, is a lot less flexible. Maybe the kind of English that’s spoken in the Indian subcontinent—where it’s partially subjugated to the tendencies of Hindi—would be a more suitable English for translation from Hungarian, but I have to work with the language I know the best. You have to struggle to make sure the sentences don’t seem too jam-packed with information, and yet, when there’s some pretty serious elision going on, you have to test the boundaries of English, with its rigid subject-verb-object structure and having to have all your indicators in place. Hungarian can look like just a splash of ink on the page. There are sentences—or, in Krasznahorkai’s case, subclauses—of just two or three words. I’m intrigued by all of this elision, and fascinated by the problem of conveying it in a recalcitrant language like English—just trying to get English to do something it’s not really meant to do. English today is the global language of commerce and trade, so while it’s dominant, it’s also in some respects deeply impoverished. It desperately needs these transfusions from other languages.

Great job. My hat off to both Ottilie and interviewer Valerie Stivers.

Yes, Virginia, My Struggle Is a Bestseller

Tim Parks at the NYR Blog has got beef with people claiming My Struggle is a bestseller:

One could be forgiven, then, for imagining that this is one of those books which periodically impose themselves as “required reading” at a global level: Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, Peter Hoeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom all spring to mind, literary equivalents of internationally successful genre works like Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey.

Well, as . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente

A reminder to read this remarkably good first novel. Reviewed at Tony’s Reading List.

Singular Pleasures

I owned this book for quite a while before I noticed this,

Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe

So translator Chris Andrews wrote a book on Bolaño: Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe. I’m pretty excited for this one. Andrews is one smart guy, and he’s a fantastic translator who has been extremely close to a number to Bolaño’s best novels.

Publishers Weekly gave this book a starred review.

This is how I first came across this book. An amazing list of the murders recounted in “The Part About the Crimes” from 2666 and their real-life analogues.

And here’s Andrews discussing Bolaño and Aira at The Quarterly . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Chejfec, Aira in Asymptote

New issue of Asymptote, with some intriguing pieces by Cesar Aira and Sergio Chejfec.

In Aira’s piece, the Argentine pays praise to his literary father, Osvando Lamborghini:

The first publication of Osvaldo Lamborghini (Buenos Aires 1940 – Barcelona 1985), shortly after his thirtieth birthday, was El fiord; it appeared in 1969, but had been written several years before. It was a thin book, and for a long time it was sold in a single bookstore in Buenos Aires via the discreet method of asking for it from the salesperson. Though it was never republished, it traveled over . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Oil on Water

David Auerbach makes an intriguing case for the novel Oil on Water by the Nigerian writer Helon Habila.

What transported me most in Oil on Water was the chronology. Our intrepid but callow reporter Rufus heads into the Niger Delta with a very flawed father-figure, Zaq, originally intending to meet up with some rebel guerrillas (under the leadership of the shadowy “Professor”) to negotiate for the return of a hostage. The hostage, Isabelle Floode, is the wife of a bigshot oil executive, and thus seemingly a pawn in the fight between the rebels and the Nigerian . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Last Stories and Other Stories

The New York Times and I agree, Vollmann’s latest book is not very good.

I feel like, recently, Vollmann’s been a lot better at nonfiction than fiction. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the next installment of his “Seven Dreams” series, in theory publishing next year.