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.

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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 […]

Do They Review the Same Copy of The Unfortunates?

Now that New Directions’s edition of The Unfortunates is starting to get reviews, I wonder: Is everyone reading the same book?

The idea behind the book is that it’s a collection of unbound signatures that you pick from randomly and read in whatever order chance dictates (only the first and last ones are designated, and those you’re supposed to read as assigned).

So I wonder, is everyone here working with the same text?

I’ve so far seen two reviews of this book. Benjamin Lytal’s review has its virtues, but noticeably lacking is a consideration of what it means to review a book that your readers will likely never read, even if they read it.

John Lingan in Splice Today comment much more thoroughly on the book’s structure. And, although he does consider the question at hand, he seems to dismiss it rather quickly:

Regardless of what order the reader assembles these chapters in, however, the dramatic thrust of The Unfortunates isn’t likely to change; the writing is all first person, comma-heavy stream of consciousness. Each chapter typically corresponds to a specific recollection, such as the friends’ first meeting or the narrator’s late visit to the hospital, and while they contain beautiful passages individually, the novel’s power comes from their accumulation. Together, in whatever order, they form a dual portrait of the narrator’s attempt to write well about a dull football match, and the difficulty imposed on that goal by the haunting memories that accompany the match’s hosting city. . . .

Try reading it simultaneously with a friend, as would no doubt heighten
the touching—and entirely unromanticized—reflections on friendship that
Johnson offers. You’d be reading a physically different book as you
technically read the same one, just as the narrator reflects that,
“everything we know about someone is perhaps not the same, even
radically different from what others, another, may seem or understand
about them, him.”

Perhaps this is true–that whatever order you read it in the experience is more or less equal. But then if this is true, I wonder if Jonson didn’t fail at what he attempted. Because the book does seem to be about encountering the same person differently. Or maybe it’s really about how people are more or less the same, even when encountered differently.

I guess I should read the book for myself.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Back Copy Dan Green finds a book’s back copy pointless. Does a serious reader really make a decision to read or not to read based on blurbs...
  2. Review Timing A pretty good, lengthy discussion over at the Lit Saloon of the issues surrounding the timing of reviews. In a nutshell, does the Internet render...
  3. Rough Guide Review It’s a little odd to see a review of The Rough Guide to Film in the LAT. I mean, I like Rough Guides and all,...
  4. Review Space John Freeman over at Critical Mass makes a good point about shrinking review space. At 700 words, if that, most reviews have room for a...
  5. Florida Review Duel Dan Green of The Reading Experience has given me the opportunity to review the NBA-nominated Florida (by Christine Schutt) with him as part of his...

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