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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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.


  • A Legacy by Sybille Bedford March 15, 2015
    Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedfor […]
  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
    Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Gr […]
  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
    New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, wa […]
  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
    This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countr […]
  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
    The Fall of Language in the Age of English stirred up debate upon its publication in Japan in 2008, and it’s possible it will do so in the U.S. with its arrival in Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter's translation. In their introduction, Yoshihara and Winters Carpenter, point out that Japanese reviewers accused Mizumura of being a jingoist, an e […]
  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
    Another View demonstrates exciting potential in translation study and praxis. It is especially significant in deconstructing assumptions about fluency and linguistic identity. The author makes some persuasive arguments for considering and even preferring non-native translation of texts, the most controversial of which is the possibility that linguistic compe […]
  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
    Despite South Korea having the kind of vibrant literary scene you'd expect from a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we're still not exactly inundated with English translations of South Korean fiction. Given this dearth, Dalkey Archive Press's Library of Korean Literature series, twenty five titles published in collab […]
  • B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal by J.C. Hallman March 14, 2015
    here’s a conspicuous history of books that simply should not work: Books like U & I by Nicholson Baker, a book-length exercise in “memory criticism,” where Baker traces Updike’s influence on his own writing life while studiously not actually re-reading any of Updike’s books. Or books like Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer’s book that procrastinates away from […]
  • The Valerie Miles Interview March 14, 2015
    The idea was to uncover the secret life of these texts, why do their creators consider them their best work? What’s the clandestine, the underground, the surreptitious meaning or attachment? Where’s the kernel, the seed from which a body of work grew, what the driving obsession? Is it something sentimental, something technical, maybe even something spiritual […]
  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
    Look up at the sky, or down into the ocean, and what color do you see? We see blue, but not Homer—he never once employs the term throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, famously calling the sea "wine-dark" and the heavens "bronze." Neither did the Greek philosopher Xenophanes say blue—he described the rainbow as having only three colors. Th […]

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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