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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  • The Atlantic on Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of PilgrimageThe Atlantic on Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

    This is the first review I've read of the new Murakami book. My feeling is that Nathaniel Rich, representing The Atlantic's... »
  • Bae Suah on SebaldBae Suah on Sebald

    Bae Suah is one of the more astonishing authors I've discovered lately. So when I saw that an essays of hers on Sebald had been... »
  • The Old School QCThe Old School QC

    Thanks to Michael Orthofer for this blast from the past. In his look back through the days of yore for various literary... »
  • Wallace MarginaliaWallace Marginalia

    The writing on this is horrifyingly bad, but there is some interesting information here about the things David Foster Wallace... »
  • All Hail AugustusAll Hail Augustus

    Daniel Mendelsohn's introduction to the NYRB Classics' reissue of Augustus is now available online as part of the Aug 14 issue... »
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    I don't expect The New York Times to have mastered the minutia of every single topic on earth, but it would be nice if the... »
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    A nice review at Music & Literature of the latest book from Gerald Murnane, A Million Windows. For those of you who have been... »
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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

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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 […]

Beckett Performs Beckett

While reading Watt I came upon this YouTube of Samuel Beckett reading from Watt. The performance embodies a couple things I think Beckett is trying to do with the book, and, as such, I think it better conveys a sense of these things than I might have by spitting a few paragraphs of verbiage at you here. I’ll simply mention that what I got from this clip was the euphony of the nonsense language and the act of separating words from any meaning.

To speak of my reading of Watt, I got the sense throughout that the book was continually trying to prevent me from attaching any meaning to it, on a word-by-word basis. I didn’t like this, as I prefer for  my words to have meaning, and I feel that the book and I wrestled to a manly stalemate until I reached this section, about 5/6 of the way through:

Three hundred and eighty-nine thousand and seventeen, said Louit, not and seventy, and seventeen. Oh, I beg your pardon, Mr Louit, I heard and seventy, said Mr de Baker. I said and seventeen, Mr de Baker, said Louit, as I thought distinctly. How extraordinary, I distinctly heard seventy, said Mr de Baker. What did you hear Mr MacStern? I heard and seventeen, with great distinctness, said Mr MacStern. Oh you did, did you, said Mr de Baker. The n is still ringing in my ears, said Mr MacStern. And you, Mr O’Meldon, said Mr de Baker. And I what? said Mr O’Meldon. Heard what, seventeen or seventy? said Mr de Baker. What did you hear, Mr de Baker? said Mr O’Meldon.

This brief excerpt comes pages and pages into this discussion, which also goes on for pages and pages. It was here that I simply stopped reading for sense and abandoned myself to the flow of sounds, and what came next was such a pleasant experience that I wasn’t sure it was correct to not have done it earlier.

This is, emphatically, not to say that I think all of Watt is nonsense, or even that one should read Watt completely as an accumulation of sounds, though I do think this section is correctly read as such.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Beckett Centennial The New York Sun has some info on Grove's forthcoming boxed set of virtually all of Beckett's works. Grove Press, Beckett's original American publisher, has...
  2. Thought Upon Reading Beckett I don’t know what he’s saying, but I like how he says it. If you’d like to see what I mean, the book is Watt,...
  3. Beckett More coverage for the big Beckett centenary edition from Grove Press. Americans have for the most part read Samuel Beckett in a motley collection of...
  4. Beckett Lectures on Literature The Guaridan: In 1961 an American academic, Tom Driver, quizzed Samuel Beckett about the confusion he found in his writing. Beckett replied: "The confusion is...
  5. Save the Words! One of the more interesting ideas I’ve heard of late. A website for rescuing endangered words. And with a word graveyard for those that don’t...

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