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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.

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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.


  • 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 […]

96 Percent Stupid

Dalkey is getting some great coverage for their Gaddis re-releases. The New Yorker picks out a gem anecdote:

William Gaddis, in the closing pages of his colossal 1955 novel “The Recognitions,” inserts a brief scene that manages to be at once rancorously funny, brazenly self-referential, and spookily prescient about the critical fate that lay in store for his work. A book reviewer and a poet meet in a tailor’s shop; both are sitting pantsless while they wait for their respective garments to be adjusted. The poet notices an unusually thick book under the critic’s arm and asks him if he’s reading it. No, says the critic, he’s not reading it, “just reviewing it.” He complains that he’s getting paid “a lousy twenty-five bucks for the job” and that “it’ll take me the whole evening tonight.” He then tells his acquaintance that he hopes he hasn’t gone and bought the book. “Christ,” he says, “I could have given it to you, all I need is the jacket blurb to write the review.”

Though the name of the book is never mentioned, it’s fairly obviously “The Recognitions.” It’s as though Gaddis was already convinced, before he even completed his nine hundred and fifty-six-page début, that the novel was going to be treated with contempt or indifference by the literary press, and had decided to work in this gag as a sort of futile, preëmptive revenge on the critics who would never get far enough into the text to notice. His apparent pessimism was borne out: the book was reviewed quite widely, but the overwhelming majority of reviews were either dismissive of its blatant ambition or frustrated by its length and frequent impenetrability. As the novelist William H. Gass put it in his introduction to the 1993 edition of the book, “Its arrival was duly newsed in fifty-five papers and periodicals. Only fifty-three of these notices were stupid.”

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Continue the Conversation Over at The Quarterly Conversation’s Facebook page, we’re discussing the new issue. Here’s part of John Lingan’s remarks on his essay on William Gaddis: "The...
  2. The Recognitions Michael over at Culturespace is embarking on a summer reading of The Recognitions. Good luck to him. It’s a splendid novel, but it’s ground down...
  3. The Anxiety of Influence William Gaddis edition: I recall a most ingenious piece in a Wisconsin quarterly some years ago in which The Recognitions’ debt to Ulysses was established...
  4. Stupid Praise Mark Lotto, i.e. the voice of sanity. Book reviewers, on the other hand, have had no trouble making up their minds about Indecision. The Gray...
  5. Some of it is just plain stupid I’d say that the Richard Posner article on media in The New York Times is about 50/50. Fifty percent of it says intelligent things that...

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1 comment to 96 Percent Stupid

  • David Heintz

    I returned the new Dalkey edition as the type size was too small and the printing was not high quality.

    However, they have just released the book for Kindle (I have an iPad) and it is perfect…

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