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.

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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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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.


  • [[there.]] by Lance Olsen December 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen is the author of two recent works, [[there.]] and Theories of Forgetting (FC2). The second presents three narratives in a clearly fictional mode while the first offers day-to-day thoughts on living in another country. We rightly suspect that any artist’s memoir or diary ought to be viewed as written with a prospective public in mind, no matter ho […]
  • Noir and Nihilism in True Detective December 15, 2014
    "It’s just one story. The oldest. . . . Light versus dark." Spanning 8 episodes between January and March of 2014, HBO’s runaway hit True Detective challenged the status quo of contemporary crime drama. The show has been widely celebrated for its philosophy, complexity, and visual aesthetic. Co-starring actors Matthew McConaughey as Rustin "Ru […]
  • The Colonel’s World December 15, 2014
    Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born 1940) is considered by many the living Iranian novelist, a perennial Nobel Prize candidate. Dowlatabadi wrote The Colonel some thirty years ago, because in his own words he had been “afflicted.” The subject forced him to sit at the desk and write nonstop for two years. “Writing The Colonel I felt a strong sense of indignation and pa […]
  • Mr Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn by Alessandro Baricco December 15, 2014
    Alessandro Baricco’s well-crafted, elegant prose seems as though it should create the impression of distance, or of abstraction; instead, the reader of Mr. Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn becomes wholly implicated and immersed, drawn into a dreamy and idiosyncratic world that blurs the division between reader, character and writer. As readers, we expect that th […]
  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash December 15, 2014
    "The paan shop leads to the opening of a tunnel, full of the creatures of the city, and the tears and spit of a fakir." In a single opening line, Uday Prakash sets the scene for the politically incisive, yet intimately human stories of The Walls of Delhi (translated brilliantly from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum). Lest the fakir suggest otherwise, t […]
  • The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation December 15, 2014
    In a speech reprinted in the book, Heim makes a self-deprecating joke about whether the life of a translator is worth reading: “What does a translator do? He sits and translates!” The Man Between serves as a book-length retort by laying bare all the things Heim did: these include persuading the academy that translation is a scholarly (in addition to a creati […]
  • The Prabda Yoon Interview December 15, 2014
    Yes, I think people are not comfortable anymore to write in this straightforward, traditional way, especially the younger, more progressive writers. So it’s interesting—you have social commentary, and you also get a little bit of structural experiment. You have themes that are very, very Thai. I’m actually very interested to see what new writers will come up […]
  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck December 15, 2014
    For Jenny Erpenbeck, no life is lived in an indisputable straight line. Which is why, in her new novel (new in English, though published in 2012 as Aller Tage Abend) she approaches the narrative as a series of potential emotional earthquakes, some which take place, some which might have taken place, all of which reveal something of how political turbulence p […]
  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
    Once, at a writers symposium, William Howard Gass remarked that to substitute the page for the world is a form of revenge for the recognition that "you are, in terms of the so-called world, an impotent nobody." There is inarguably no contemporary writer of American stock in whose work one might locate a more ambitious war of attrition between innov […]
  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
    Luiselli’s first novel, Faces in the Crowd, translated into fluid English by Christina MacSweeney, is the perfect illustration of this attitude toward fiction writing. Narrated in short sections spanning multiple storylines and the better part of one hundred years, it uses "[d]eep excavations" to expose the empty spaces in two lives, those of a you […]

2666–The Big Book of BEA?

Chad Post is declaring 2666 the "big book" of BEA

Jeff’s comments about how they marketed The Savage Detectives and what they’re doing for 2666
was fascinating to me. (As I told him afterwards, I think Jeff’s one of
the most brilliant publicists out there and I could spend a whole panel
simply interviewing him.) In a very real way, 2666 may be the “Big Book” of BEA
2008 that I claimed didn’t exist in my last post. Jeff said the
response has been overwhelming and that they gave out 400 copies (!) of
the galley at the book fair. I know print runs smaller than that . . .

He was incredibly honest about facts and figures related to The Savage Detectives,
revealing that in the catalog they put the initial print run at
35,000-40,000 and that based on advances in the mid-teens (16-17,000)
the first printing was in the low-20s. All of which is remarkable. The
Natasha Wimmer essay was a huge help in creating a context for
reviewers to approach the book, as was the website they specially
created for this book. Jeff gave both New Directions and FSG
editor Lorin Stein a lot of credit for helping make Bolano take off,
even saying that three-in-one paperback set was an idea of Lorin’s.

Since we’re talking 2666 and sales potential, I might as will blog a little about why I’m not sure 2666 will have the same appeal as TSD did.

During BEA I finally got to meet Martin Riker of the Dalkey Archive Press, and one of the things we talked about were my ongoing impressions of 2666. I really think this is a book that requires a good deal of patience from the reader, and it’s somewhat atypical among the Bolano I’ve read in that it moves extremely slowly and doesn’t have any really compelling characters.

That’s not to say that I have an unfavorable view of the book (I’ve yet to make up my mind); just that its not exactly the Bolano that people who have read the translations thus far will know.

Martin had an interesting response to this. His impression was that Bolano, especially in The Savage Detectives, had been sold as an author that pulls you in from the start and keeps holding on all the way through. His impression was that this was no small factor in this book’s broad popularity.

I can’t comment on the degree to which this is true, but, if this is true, then I think a lot of people are going to have their expectations of 2666 challenged once they start reading the book. That is, if they’re expecting something that "pulls you in," I don’t think they’ll find that in 2666.

Just to give an example, right now I’m reading a 300-page section right in the heart of 2666. This part, I think, is the main part of this book.It’s largely comprised of short (1- to 2-page) police-style narrations of discovering the bodies of murdered women and then brief explanations as to whether the murderer was found or not. That’s mostly what this section is, over and over again.

This is not the most gripping material. It’s moving at its own pace according to somewhat obscure logic, it’s frequently gruesome, and you need to have a lot of patience to let it develop on its own and speculate about where it is going. I don’t remember any section from TSD that’s like this.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. 2666 The Literary Saloon and others report that there’s now an Amazon pub date for Bolaño’s opus, in English. I’m a little divided as to whether...
  2. BEA–It’s Over The paperback edition of 2666. It’s even more beautiful in person. BEA was intense. It’s been a while since I have I been around...
  3. BEA For the five or so of you who a) want to meet me, and b) are headed to BEA this year, send me an email...
  4. 3x Bolaño in The Nation Roberto Bolaño gets triple coverge in The Nation, including, impressively, a review of one of his titles not yet available in English. Happy as I...
  5. Seattle–Book Trend-Setter The NYT wonders how three Seattle companies became gained the influence to create bestsellers. Books by relatively unknown or foreign authors become best sellers by...

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2 comments to 2666–The Big Book of BEA?

  • Wow, that section does sound . . . challenging.
    That said, I’m with Chad Post, at least to the extent that I know 2666 was the novel I had the most conversations about at BEA {Well, maybe aside from Mario Lopez’s new book about his abs.} The book itself was the main draw, but FSG’s marketing and design were also being justly rewarded for their innovation by becoming conversation topics–and buzz creators.
    That, and another conversation with friends at the show, finally led me to break down and pick up The Savage Detectives. I’m a couple years behind most people, but I think it’s finally Bolano time for me.

  • Levi,
    The design on those paperbacks was rather beautiful, wasn’t it?
    Extremely good to hear you’ve gotten a copy of TSD. I don’t think that’s the best place to start with Bolano–but who cares? I’m just happy you’re reading him!

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