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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    My piece covering two new translations of books by Marcos Giralt Torrente—Paris and Father and Son: A Lifetime—has just... »
  • A Little Lumpen NovelitaA Little Lumpen Novelita

    The latest Bolaño, reviewed at M&L. In one of the monologues that make up the long middle section of Roberto... »
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  • Issue 37 of The Quarterly ConversationIssue 37 of The Quarterly Conversation

    Here it is. If you're the kind that doesn't like to just jump into things, full TOC after the... »
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You Say

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.


  • 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 […]

Because I’ve Been Thinking a Lot About Oulipo Lately

Some Oulipo links.

Bookforum’s Oulipo syllabus.

Writings for the Oulipo by Ian Monk

In this concise but rich collection, Ian Monk ingeniously introduces and analyzes various Oulipian forms while also taking them to task. Of particular import is his lipogrammatic critique of Gilbert Adair’s translation of Georges Perec’s La Disparition (as A Void), an insightful meditation on the problems of translation. These pieces serve not only as an explanation of the Oulipo but also as an introduction to Monk, a wonderful writer and translator in his own right (after reading Writings, check out his 2004 book of poetry, Family Archaeology).

My own Essential Oulipo Works in English.

Drunken Boat’s very rich Oulipo feature.

Oulipo Compendium reviewed at the Boston Review.

An essentially collaborative effort to create new work by arbitrary systems of constraint, recombination, transposition, and displacement, Oulipo is on one level a game-though of course all art is game-playing. And on another level, it is a means of breaking through what one knows and knows how to do, a way of forcing oneself to think in different categories, to come face to face with the surprising. Take the lipogram, for instance: a text excluding one or more letters of the alphabet. Georges Perec wrote an entire novel, A Void (La disparition), without using the letter e. Walter Abish’s Alphabetical Africa consists of 52 chapters, each word in the first chapter beginning with a, each in the second chapter with either a or b and so on, until with chapter 26, where all letters are allowed, the process reverses, each word in the final chapter again beginning with a. Others have written texts in which each noun was replaced by that found seventh ahead of it in the dictionary, texts using no letters that extend above or below the line, texts in which all r’s have been eased-make that erased.

Though in no sense is this a mere glossary, editors Mathews and Brotchie arrange their material alphabetically. “Processes, definitions, and personalities,” they say, brief entries of biography and unusual reference (a definition and examples of homosemantic translation, for instance) opening onto longer discussions of various schemata for composition, both in theory and as realized in specific works. Included are discussions of such Oulipo keystones as Queneau’s Exercises in Style and Georges Perec’s Life A User’s Manual, as well as generous samples of work from the panoply of Oulipian activity. Shorter sections on Oulipopo (crime fiction), Oupeinpo (painting) and Ou-x-pos (comics) supplement the 250-page Oulipo section.

Recent Tweets with the word oulipo in them

Harry Mathews’ essay “In Quest of the Oulipo” (hosted at lacan.com, no less):

How much has the Oulipo mattered to me, and why? It is hard to answer simply, because its influence has been gradual, because I had strong non-Oulipian feelings about three of its members, because my devotion to the group involves much more than its ideas.

Was I an Oulipian before the fact? I long thought so. I used to claim that the Oulipo had only favored and not changed the course of my writing. (After all, I had written my first three novels without even hearing of it.) I was not yet aware of what the Oulipo was in fact changing: my understanding of the act of writing. This has been an insidious process.

My non-Oulipian feelings concerned Raymond Queneau, Italo Calvino, and Georges Perec . . .

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. On Joining Oulipo by Accident From Harry Mathews’ excellent, engaging Paris Review interview. Is that when you found out about the Oulipo? MATHEWS I had first heard about the Oulipo...
  2. Happy Birthday Oulipo November 24: The French experimental writing group "Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle" was founded on this day in 1960. The name translates as "Workshop of Potential...
  3. Essential Works by Oulipo Members in English Probably the most daring and most famous book to come out of Oulipo, here Perec writes (and Gilbert Adair translates) a full novel without the...
  4. Machine by Georges Perec Rev’d at Complete Review Michael Orthofer reviews "The Machine," a radio play written by Geroges Perec and published for the first time in English in the recent all-Perec issue...
  5. Believer in Oulipo The Believer looks at the members of Oulipo. The Beautiful Outlaw is a type of lipogram (for more about which, see below) wherein a...

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