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

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.


  • 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 […]

My LA Times Review of Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace

You can find my LA Times review of David Lipsky’s book about traveling around with David Foster Wallace at the tail end of the Infinite Jest book tour here. . . . continue reading, and add your comments

On Editing DFW

GQ interviews Deborah Treisman, who worked on the two New Yorker excerpts (“Good People” and “Wiggle Room”) from the unfinished DFW novel, “The Pale King”:

David was wonderful to edit because he was so involved with the minutiae of his work—he had a long explanation for every decision that he’d made, and yet, at the same time, he was willing to rethink anything that didn’t seem to be landing well for the reader. Editing him was sometimes a more painstaking process than editing most writers, but it was a genuine pleasure to engage with his intelligence and . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Pale King Excerpt in The New Yorker

Right here.

For some context (and grave doubts as to The Pale King's publish-ability as a completed novel) see DT Max's excellent piece on Wallace's suicide and post-Infinite Jest novel-writing.

And lastly, there are The Quarterly Conversation's own thoughts on posthumous publication.

David Foster Wallace in Tin House

The current Tin House has fiction by David Foster Wallace: “THE PLANET TRILLAPHON AS IT STANDS IN RELATION TO THE BAD THING.”

Not sure what this is.

My Infinite Summer: Part II Of Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, from Girl With Curious Hair

Last week I discussed David Foster Wallace's important novella, "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way." I thought it had a number of flaws–in fact, I'd say that on the whole the novella doesn't work for me. Although last week I did mention that the piece is still worth reading, especially as a bridge between his early writing and his masterpiece, Infinite Jest. Now I'd like to write a little about why I think that is.

Several years after reading Infinite Jest, one of the things I still most admire about that book is Wallace's . . . continue reading, and add your comments

My Infinite Summer: Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, from Girl With Curious Hair

Given the author's own thoughts on it, it's difficult to read David Foster Wallace's novella "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" without bias:

Larry McCaffery: Why is meta-metafiction a trap? Isn’t that what you were doing in "Westward"?

David Foster Wallace: That’s a Rog. And maybe "Westward"’s only real value’ll be showing the kind of pretentious loops you fall into now if you fuck around with recursion. My idea in "Westward" was to do with metafiction what Moore’s poetry or like DeLillo’s "Libra" had done with other mediated myths. I wanted to get the Armageddon-explosion, the . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Infinite Summer: David Foster Wallace as Militant Grammarian

If you’re going to write a book featuring a Militant Grammarian as a character, it probably behooves you to cross every ‘t’ and forget no tittles, to split no infinitives and dangle no participles. David Foster Wallace’s long, grandly periodic sentences, which often resemble nothing so much as a prolonged clay court baseline rally, are not helpful in this regard; the multiple subordinations, extended parentheticals, and drifting subject matter are enough to give a prescriptive grammarian palpitations.

Yet Wallace is perhaps more careful than he needs to be with his reader, more solicitous of the possibility that the string of the sentence has crossed itself one too many times, and its referents and antecedents have become blurred and disordered. Quite frequently, he simply adds a parenthetical or appositional reminder of who a pronoun refers to, just to let you know about whom we’re still talking. For instance,

Orin’s decision to attend college pleased his parents a great deal, although Mrs. Avril Incandenza, especially, had gone out of her way to make it clear that whatever Orin decided to do would please them because they stood squarely behind and in full support of him, Orin, and any decision his very best thinking yielded. (283)

That’s a fairly tame sentence as far as these things go; for a real whopper, see page 295, beginning with “He told Joelle van Dyne…” Thirteen lines later, Wallace finds it necessary to insert a kindly “(O.)” just to let you know that Joelle hasn’t started talking to another man.

A more straightforward example, which is played very well for laughs, is the sentence “There is something queerly poignant about a deeply faded tattoo, a poignancy something along the lines of coming upon the tiny and poignantly unfashionable clothes of a child long-since grown up in an attic trunk somewhere (the clothes, not the grown child, Ewell confirmed for G. Day)” (209). The parenthetical clause here is ostensibly clarifying a humorously misplaced modifier of the kind and quality that Strunk & White might use to demonstrate the perils of lax composition. Of course, no one would actually get mixed up by this—the syntactically correct interpretation is just too bizarre and unlikely, even for Ewell. Wallace can’t actually be concerned that this sentence might be misinterpreted; he’s just having a little fun with Ewell’s batsness.

But worrying about the reader’s confusion with pronominal antecedents is just one possible explanation of why these little tagged modifiers pop up from time to time, and I tend to believe, now at least, after some thought, that it’s not even a very good one. Even in the first sentence I quoted above, although James O. is invoked indirectly by the blanket reference to “parents,” there is really no possible confusion as to whom any subsequent “him” might be referring, particularly not when we’re talking about a “him” who is being fully supported. The “him, Orin,” construction is wholly superfluous; there’s just no possible ambiguity that would require a reiteration of the referent. And while I think that Wallace takes a slightly erratic view of his audience’s intellectual acumen and knowledge, sometimes giving us a fairly casual and indifferent gloss on a bit of arcana, at other times delivering exhaustively granular detail on completely tangential material, there is no way David Foster Wallace thinks you can’t follow the syntactic traffic signs for a measly 55-word sentence.

But if excessive syntactic solicitude is not the purpose of these “him, Orin,” constructions, then what is?

Continue reading Infinite Summer: David Foster Wallace as Militant Grammarian

DeLillo Character Reviews David Foster Wallace

A character from multiple DeLillo novels, has written a critique of Wallace’s work. The author is Jay Murray Siskind, probably best-known as the professor in White Noise:

Anyone familiar with White Noise should recognize the clues that the supposed reviewer is DeLillo’s character and not some real live scholar with the same name: there’s the fictional Blacksmith College (which, while not the college portrayed in White Noise, is a name of one of the neighboring towns); there are the fake footnotes in the review referring to other characters and details from . . . continue reading, and add your comments

My Infinite Summer: “Good Old Neon,” from Oblivion

I'm fairly sure that David Foster Wallace's short story "Good Old Neon," published in the collection Oblivion, is the most celebrated piece of writing in the author's post-Infinite Jest career. It is certainly the most lauded story to appear in Oblivion: it received an O. Henry Award, was the most consistently praised piece in the mixed reviews that greeted Oblivion upon publication, and was mentioned again and again (for reasons both literary and autobiographical) after the suicide.

The piece, which I read this week for the first time, strikes me as in many ways . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Contra Infinite Summer

Valve bloger Scott Eric Kaufman offers what must be among the dumber reasons for not reading Infinite Jest:

Am I alone in finding the whole idea of Infinite Summer a little morbid? The renewed interest in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is an obvious Good Thing—a first step toward popular as well as academic canonization—but having lived through the recent Michael Jackson Media Event, I can’t help but wonder whether the desire to read Wallace’s novel is akin downloading Thriller because Some Important Someone died. Do I sound like I’m thwacking some straw man with shovel? . . . continue reading, and add your comments