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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.


  • A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

A New Literary Approach to the Holocaust

In an essay examining The Kindly Ones in the context of other Holocaust literature, Garth Risk Hallberg nails the reason why this book is so polarizing:

But it is Littell who, by writing a 975-page novel from the point-of-view of a sexually damaged S.S. officer, has invited the burdens he must now carry. His work can achieve its totalizing ambitions only to the extent that it exhausts every facet of its monstrous subject. That Littell manages to embody so completely the difficulties of finding a new literary approach to his subject thus testifies, . . . continue reading, and add your comments

A Book Must Be the Axe for the Frozen Sea Inside Us

Steve Mitchelmore's review of The Kindly Ones starts out by citing Beckett on Les 120 journées de Sodome, and then Steve quotes Kafka on writing ("the reward for serving the devil"). Anyone at all familiar with Littell's book can see what a great set-up this is, and I don't think I've seen this particular bit of context yet applied to The Kindly Ones.

Of course go and read the entire piece. Here's one particular point that I believe hasn't been made before:

While searching for a cure or an answer, Aue expresses admiration for the capacity . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Next Time, Get It in the Contract Before You Give a $1 Million Advance

Jonathan Littell's recently released uber-novel The Kindly Ones may be running aground against American critics' puritanism, but don't expect Littell to care much. MobyLives reports that he recently told WSJ journalist Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg that coming to America for a book tour isn't his business.

To Plumb the Nazi Psyche

At RSB Carey Harrison has a nice post on The Kindly Ones. Carey takes into account Daniel Mendelsohn's lengthy, considered review in the NYRB, and both Carey and Daniel try to understand why Littell has made his book so dirty.

Here's some of Carey's take:

Mendelsohn’s conclusion grants The Kindly Ones a majestic, honourable defeat in pursuit of the indescribable. To my knowledge, he is the only reviewer so far to have seriously tried to assess how the hero’s ghastly secret crimes, and . . . continue reading, and add your comments

UK Review of The Kindly Ones

The Guardian provides the first UK review I've seen of Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones.

This is a decidedly positive review, and it provides some extra-literary info that I was not aware of:

The first significant work of Jonathan Littell, Francophone son of American spy author Robert, it was an entirely unexpected success. Gallimard, the publisher, originally printed 5,000 copies. Within months, Les Bienveillantes had sold 300,000 copies, had been welcomed by critics as the most important book for 50 years and had won the Goncourt and Femina prizes. Stupendous sums were paid for its . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Littell on Blanchot: Writing Is What It Is

This Space has made available in English the text of a commentary on Maurice Blanchot written by The Kindly Ones author Jonathan Littell.

Its an intriguing piece that starts with a simple question:

how to write in the wake of this thinking [Blanchot's] without being carried away by its language? No one, to my knowledge, has managed it (except perhaps Foucault, Levinas: frightening predecessors) . . .

Littell then begins what he considers an almost impossible task by considering the nature of literature, as understood by Blanchot:

The first thing one could say about it is . . . continue reading, and add your comments

The Kindly Ones Reviewed at The Complete Review

My copy of this brick arrived this week, and while I intend to give it a fair hearing and read it in full, things like this are complicating my plans:

This massive (just short of a thousand pages in the English (and original French) edition), prix Goncourt-winning epic was certainly one of the most anticipated-by-us titles of 2009, and while we’re not sorry that we worked our way through it — it will be much discussed and reviewed in the months to come (yes, even Sam Tanenhaus and the NYTBR won’t be able to avoid this one), . . . continue reading, and add your comments

First Review of The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

If you know just one thing about translated literature in 2009, it’s probably that French mega-novel Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones) is publishing in English this year. Expectations are high, especially after 2666 has primed us for enormous novels in translation.

Bookforum (which continues to snub 2666 without explanation) gets in an early review of The Kindly Ones, and although the review is positive in tone, there’s not much here to convince me that I need to wade through these 992 pages. Reviewer Leland de la Durantaye duly states that the plot is "brilliantly organized and . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Les Bienveillantes

Something worth keeping an eye on.

After a languid intercontinental auction that stretched for more than a week, the American rights to Jonathan Littell’s novel “Les Bienveillantes,” which became a publishing sensation in France, have been sold to HarperCollins, the publisher confirmed yesterday. . . .

“Les Bienveillantes,” which translates as “The Kindly Ones,” is a 903-page novel written in French by an American author with a defiant Nazi SS officer as its hero. It captivated the publishing industry this month at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where publishers speculated that the American and British rights could fetch . . . continue reading, and add your comments