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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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.


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  • 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, […]
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  • 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
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  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
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Bolano and Imperfection

After breezing through the first hundred pages of 2666, I had the feeling that I’d finish the book in a week. I read By Night in Chile in a single sitting, Amulet in two, and Distant Star in perhaps three at most, so by extrapolating out, a week seemed perfectly reasonable.

2666 turned out to be a much slower read than I anticipated.

I think, probably, if it was like a 1,000-page version of By Night in Chile, I would have read the book in a week; but I’m not even sure what I just wrote makes sense. I’m not sure that By Night in Chile could ever be a 1,000-page work. By Night in Chile is so tightly wound that every word feels like it absolutely needs to be there. It is a book that, though complex, deals with very precise phenomena, and deals with them in a sharp, surgical manner.

I would argue that books the size of 2666 simply aren’t meant to do what books like By Night in Chile do. Books like 2666 take on the biggest themes their authors can imagine, and these themes are so large that it takes serious novelistic real estate to even establish them on paper. They end up being so complex and ambitious that even the best authors can get lost in them. This is all a way of arguing that perhaps there is no way to make a book like 2666 feel as clean as By Night in Chile.

I’m a big fan of imperfection in literature. Although I can admire the tautly constructed small novel for the endless arguability and interpretability offered by its enigmatic clarity–think of The Metamorphosis, for instance–I like the imperfect, large novels for the very reason that I can feel things getting lost and going awry within them. It’s these detached or misshapen pieces that often become the most compelling moments in the novel for me.

In his afterword to the first edition of 2666, Ignacio Echevarria, Bolano’s literary executor, appropriately quotes this passage from the novel:

What a sad paradox, thought Amalfitano. Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to tak eon the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing; they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.

I can’t imagine that Bolano wasn’t writing this self consciously; 2666 was his last book, by far his most ambitious. It followed a number of those "perfect exercises" and The Savage Detectives, which seems like his attempt to break out of the short novels into something large and ambitious, a midway station between them and 2666.

2666 is also, as far as I know, the only one of Bolano’s novels that directly deals with Nazi fascism, a matter that is discussed indirectly everywhere in Bolano’s works. I imagine that in writing about this Bolano was engaging in the "real combat" mentioned in the quote.

In addition to the Nazis, 2666 is a book about voids–the void represented by death, by cosmic boredom, by literary insignificance, by senseless violence and death. 2666 engages in real combat with all of these, and now that I have finished the book I want to go back and consider how well Bolano has waged his battles, how well he has added to these concepts, how deeply he has probed them, and how well they function as complements, placed, as they are, side by side in the 5 "books" that comprise 2666. This, I think, will be the true measure of the success of the last book Bolano wrote.

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  1. Mucho Bolaño Among other offerings in a strong, new edition of HermanoCerdo, you can read two essays dealing with Roberto Bolaño. One is by me and deals...
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2 comments to Bolano and Imperfection

  • Thanks Scott, for so generously sharing your thoughts with us. Without having read any of it, I somehow suspect that you are quite on the mark. I hope you will expand these thoughts in a later piece.

  • ThinandLight

    Nice piece. This is next on my BIG BOOK list of 2008. Had you written this before the release of “Nazi Literature in the Americas,” or are you saying that that was an indirect treatment (albeit with an explicit title)?

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