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.


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  • Noir and Nihilism in True Detective December 15, 2014
    "It’s just one story. The oldest. . . . Light versus dark." Spanning 8 episodes between January and March of 2014, HBO’s runaway hit True Detective challenged the status quo of contemporary crime drama. The show has been widely celebrated for its philosophy, complexity, and visual aesthetic. Co-starring actors Matthew McConaughey as Rustin "Ru […]
  • The Colonel’s World December 15, 2014
    Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born 1940) is considered by many the living Iranian novelist, a perennial Nobel Prize candidate. Dowlatabadi wrote The Colonel some thirty years ago, because in his own words he had been “afflicted.” The subject forced him to sit at the desk and write nonstop for two years. “Writing The Colonel I felt a strong sense of indignation and pa […]
  • Mr Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn by Alessandro Baricco December 15, 2014
    Alessandro Baricco’s well-crafted, elegant prose seems as though it should create the impression of distance, or of abstraction; instead, the reader of Mr. Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn becomes wholly implicated and immersed, drawn into a dreamy and idiosyncratic world that blurs the division between reader, character and writer. As readers, we expect that th […]
  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash December 15, 2014
    "The paan shop leads to the opening of a tunnel, full of the creatures of the city, and the tears and spit of a fakir." In a single opening line, Uday Prakash sets the scene for the politically incisive, yet intimately human stories of The Walls of Delhi (translated brilliantly from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum). Lest the fakir suggest otherwise, t […]
  • The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation December 15, 2014
    In a speech reprinted in the book, Heim makes a self-deprecating joke about whether the life of a translator is worth reading: “What does a translator do? He sits and translates!” The Man Between serves as a book-length retort by laying bare all the things Heim did: these include persuading the academy that translation is a scholarly (in addition to a creati […]
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  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck December 15, 2014
    For Jenny Erpenbeck, no life is lived in an indisputable straight line. Which is why, in her new novel (new in English, though published in 2012 as Aller Tage Abend) she approaches the narrative as a series of potential emotional earthquakes, some which take place, some which might have taken place, all of which reveal something of how political turbulence p […]
  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
    Once, at a writers symposium, William Howard Gass remarked that to substitute the page for the world is a form of revenge for the recognition that "you are, in terms of the so-called world, an impotent nobody." There is inarguably no contemporary writer of American stock in whose work one might locate a more ambitious war of attrition between innov […]
  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
    Luiselli’s first novel, Faces in the Crowd, translated into fluid English by Christina MacSweeney, is the perfect illustration of this attitude toward fiction writing. Narrated in short sections spanning multiple storylines and the better part of one hundred years, it uses "[d]eep excavations" to expose the empty spaces in two lives, those of a you […]

Essential Works by Oulipo Members in English


I’m the co-author of
The End of Oulipo? (with Lauren Elkin), available from Zero Books. Here’s an expanded version of the list of essential Oulipo books that can be found at the end of The End of Oulipo?



Invisible Cities — Italo Calvino


Calvino wrote this novel shortly after his legendary translation of Raymond Queneau’s The Blue Flowers introduced him to Oulipo. This account of numerous cities of the mind that Marco Polo recounts to Kublai Khan bears the clear mark of Oulopian writing and may be Calvino’s best book.



If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler — Italo Calvino


This famous work by Calvino begins a new, different novel with each chapter. Alternating chapters about a reader trying to read this excessively strange book tie it all together.



My Life in CIA: A Chronicle of 1973 — Harry Mathews


A fine Oulipo entry into the genre of autofiction, here Mathews recounts his experiences as a pretend member of the CIA. As an ex-pat writer in Paris, many suspected Mathews of being a CIA in disguise, and when no one believed his denials he decided to go with the flow.



Singular Pleasures — Harry Mathews


Another one of Oulipo’s famous dare books, this one finds Mathews recounting 62 short tales of masturbation. As an added bonus, this book is illustrated by the Italian painter Francesco Clemente.



Life A User’s Manual — Georges Perec


Perhaps the biggest, most ambitious and encyclopedic novel to ever come out of Oulipo, we are fortunate that Perec finished it before succumbing to cancer at the far-too-young age of 42.



A Void — Georges Perec


Probably the most daring and most famous book to come out of Oulipo, here Perec writes (and Gilbert Adair translates) a full novel without the letter e. The playful story perfectly matches the form, as it’s all about a certain “Anton Vowl” who has gone missing.



Exercises in Style — Raymond Queneau


The great ancestor of constrained writing, here Queneau retells the same short incident 99 times. A virtuosic execution of a daring idea, this book is also a testament to the art of translation. As translator Barbara Wright puts it, the book is “a profound exploration into the possibilities of language.”



The Blue Flowers — Raymond Queneau


Perhaps the most untranslatable book of any Oulipo writer, this book tells twin narratives: the story of the Duc d’Auge at 175-year intervals is joined by Cidrolin in the present day. As the two dream of one another the narratives interrelate in this extremely dense philosophical novel, bringing in everything from Finnegans Wake to Hegel.



The Great Fire of London — Jacques Roubaud


A relentless anti-novel, Roubaud began writing this book in 1961 and then started taking it apart in 1983, when his beloved wife, Alix, died prematurely. The result is a staggering mix of constraint, philosophical digression, and raw emotion.



Some Thing Black — Jacques Roubaud


Declared one of the greatest works of poetry to come out of Oulipo, this is Roubaud’s tribute to his wife, Alix, after her premature death from pulmonary embolism. It has been translated into English by one of the language’s greatest living poets, Rosemarie Waldrop.



Alix’s Journal — Alix Roubaud


An ideal accompaniment to some thing black, this is the genre- (and punctuation-) defying journal that Alix kept as a photographer and writer. It shows equally why Jacques was the right partner for her and what an unfortunate loss her early death left the writing world with.



Hervé Le Tellier — The Sextine Chapel


Like a cross between Exercises in Style and Singular Pleasures, this book presents variations on the theme of sex between over 20 partners. As time passes their interlocking connections come to resemble the tangle of humanity on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.



The Writings Of Marcel Duchamp


Though his art tends to overshadow his writing, Duchamp was a member of Oulipo in good standing. These writings include his “Texticles,” as well as notes on some of his most famous works of art and two interviews.



Suicide — Edouard Leve


Though Leve was not a full-fledged member of Oulipo, he might have one day become one had he not committed suicide ten days after delivering this final work to his publisher. The marks of constrained writing are in evidence in this short, powerful meditation on suicide, just as they are in the other four fictions Leve published before his death in 2007.



Eunoia — Christian Bok


Though Bok is not a member of Oulipo, his book deserves a place on this list, as it goes A Void one better: each of the five chapters in this short work uses only words containing one of the five vowels. Thus one chapter has only words with a’s in it, another i’s, and so on.



Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature — Warren F. Motte Jr.


A collection of critical writings from Oulipo members brought together by one of Oulipo’s most astute critics. This book makes the perfect introduction for the budding reader (or practitioner) of Oulipo.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Not Even Death Can Save You Artforum reports on the recent gathering of Oulipo in NYC: As noted by poet and memoirist Honor Moore (the Host), the six readers are Oulipians...
  2. Life A User’s Manual Big Read Schedule In this post you'll find the reading schedule for the 2011 Life A User's Manual Big Read, plus a list of resources and books you...
  3. Happy Birthday Oulipo November 24: The French experimental writing group "Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle" was founded on this day in 1960. The name translates as "Workshop of Potential...
  4. The Genius of What Is Possible In English Fascinating conversation between Adam Kirsch and Ilya Kaminsky on what translation can and can’t do. I’ll grant that Kirsch is well-informed, and his concerns are...
  5. Believer in Oulipo The Believer looks at the members of Oulipo. The Beautiful Outlaw is a type of lipogram (for more about which, see below) wherein a...

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