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 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 […]

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