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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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You Say

  • Max: Henry, it seems a little odd to say that Proust and Kafka an
  • Mike: I agree with much of this discussion, though I'm not sure wh
  • S: This outpouring has been pretty wide-spread indeed. To be ho
  • Will: Salman rushdie is a microscopic crapule on the asshole of th
  • Henry: I think the fireworks may come from the fact that these auth
  • Paul: Vanessa Place's 'La Medusa' seems like an American authored
  • Lance: I agree with you about the state of American fiction and I b

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 […]

CR Readers’ Picks

Based on Amazon purchases made through links on this website, the following are the "picks" of Conversational Reading’s readers for 2008:

#1

By a large margin, The Invention of Morel was the most popular purchase among readers of this blog. Obviously, my sincere praise of this book helped move it along, but I’m convinced that not nearly as many copies would have been purchased if this wasn’t a great book, and if Borges wasn’t Bioy’s literary collaborator. A great read, and if you haven’t had a chance to yet, definitely pick it up.

#2

Not really a surprise, . . . continue reading, and add your comments

How to Spot Mediocre Fiction

Matthew Cheney writes on what makes mediocre fiction mediocre:

And it is Gardner’s final point about the story as performance that is most important for distinguishing lifeless fiction from excellent fiction—mediocre stories are capable of creating a continuous (perhaps even occasionally vivid) dream in the reader’s mind; they can possess a philosophical impulse; they can deal with the expectations they set up. But they lack gusto and verve, chutzpah and charisma, fascination and savor. They are dead on the page and forgotten soon after they are read. While I find it easy to believe readers will experience . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Last Year at Marienbad

The case of Last Year at Marienbad is interesting for any reader of Bioy’s The Invention of Morel; it is also worthwhile for anyone interested in the relationship between movies and books.

Alain Robbe-Grillet declared that his movie was inspired by Bioy’s novel, but it isn’t simply an adaption of Bioy’s work into a film. Upon viewing the film, there is clearly a lot of thematic, and even plot-based, overlap between the two, but each is also clearly independent from the other.

In this way, I think Robbe-Grillet made a movie "based on a novel" . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Friday Column: How Should the First-Person Be Written?

Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier seems to me to possess precisely those virtues to which the novel narrated in the first-person is best suited. Often in first-person novels, the narrator is magically able to relate her story with the polish and skill of a novelist, and no effort is ever made to address why an otherwise ordinary person possesses such sharp storytelling abilities. The Good Soldier strikes me as such an accomplishment because Ford does not only provide us with a narrator whose storytelling skills are realistically diminished; he also integrates the narrator’s diminished capacity into . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Friday Column: When Is It Okay to Read About an Author’s Private Life?

I recently learned that, as a middle-aged man, the blind Borges would have young boys read books to him in his apartment in Buenos Aires. This is, apparently, how the man imbibed most of his literature after the blindness set in.

I learned this odd fact which reading the short memoir With Borges. Written by the somewhat well-known chronicler of reading, Alberto Manguel, who was actually one of the young boys who read to Borges, the book is a hodgepodge of anecdotes about the man and some of his friends.

I . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Friday Column: The Root of All Sources

Just a short while ago I finished Gunter Grass’s novel The Tin Drum, a book whose Christ imagery is at points so unequivocal that it is apparent to even a Bible dolt such as myself. Though many of the Biblical references were far too obvious even for me to miss, I had my suspicions that many more were flying right by.

The Tin Drum brought to mind a thought that I find myself entertaining from time to time: I really should read the Bible. No, I haven’t suddenly gotten religious on you. Nor do I . . . continue reading, and add your comments

First-Person

From Dan Green’s review of Skunk: A Love Story:

One of the reasons I liked this book is precisely its skillful use of first-person narration. I have more or less come to the conclusion that the only way an otherwise conventional narrative (and Skunk is, depite its unconventional subject and eccentric characters, essentially a narrative-driven novel, without much in the way of purely formal experimentation) can succeed, post-modernism and post-postmodernism, is through first-person narrative. The third-person central-consciousnes mode of narration (sometimes called the "free indirect style"), which has become the default mode of storytelling, providing us with both . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Alain Robbe Grillet Ruined Your Fiction

I don’t quite agree with this post-mortem on Alain Robbe-Grillet.

The "new novel" or "nouveau roman," as Robbe-Grillet defined and explained it in his famous 1963 essay, was high art at its unpalatably highest. It applied rules and regulations, opposed subjectivity and tried to dissolve plot and character into description. The approach was perceived, he admitted, as "difficult to read, addressed only to specialists." The "art novel" became the preserve of high priests. Many novelists you’ve probably never heard of were deeply influenced by Robbe-Grillet. Even more damaging, though, was the effect his radicalization and elitism had on . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Friday Column: A Critical Experience

Over at Critical Mass, Molly McQuade has a nice idea. After a particularly tumultuous year for book reviewing, why not look back and see what we can say about the state of the art? Choosing Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero as her test case (because it’s a book that forced critics to react differently than usual), McQuade writes 4,000 words in a three-part essay (1, 2, 3) on what she sees.

It’s not good. McQuade almost immediately finds most critics too "incurious" to approach Divisidero correctly; that is, their preconceptions of what a novel is and . . . continue reading, and add your comments