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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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

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Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

Explaining the Difficult-to-Explain

We’re serializing John Domini’s essay “Against the ‘Impossible to Explain’: The Postmodern Novel and Society” in two parts, the first of which has just been published at The Quarterly Conversation.

The essay brings in a number of books and essays, and it covers three particular works in depth: Aureole by Carole Maso, Zeroville Steve Erickson, and Michael Martone by Michael Martone by Michael Martone. It’s a lengthy piece that’s a little difficult to summarize, but essentially Domini is writing against criticism that throws its hands up in the face of “difficult” books. Part of the essay is him railing against such criticism, and part of it is him demonstrating precisely the better kind of criticism he’s asking for (with three excellent reads of the three main books being discussed here). It more or less jumps off from something Domini read in the NYTBR:

Another book I’m going to look at, Steve Erickson’s far-from-ordinary Zeroville (2007), enjoyed high-profile encomiums; the Times Book Review hailed it as the author’s “best.” Yet the Times reviewer, Liesl Schillinger, went on to say: “it’s simply impossible to explain the intent and direction of this . . . novel.” Oh really? And this from someone described as “a regular contributor” to the Review? A better brief example of the problem with contemporary criticism would be hard to find.

Have a look at the essay in full–I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. And remember that part 2 of the piece will be published in The Quarterly Conversation next week.

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  1. Michael Martone Interview at The Quarterly Conversation We just published an interview with Michael Martone, creator of delightful experimental fictions. I think most people who read this blog know Martone, but for...
  2. 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...
  3. Difficult to Believe Wyatt Mason's review of The Skating Rink, plus Elizabeth Hawes’ review of Desert by JMG Le Clezio marks the first time in memory that there...
  4. Friday Column: Martone As a member of the LBC, I was greatly impressed by Michael Martone, our Summer 2006 Reah This! selection. For those who haven’t read...
  5. Martone Alert LBC-pick and personal favorite Michael Martone has a new short story in Esquire. The Death of Derek Jeter. Awesome. (via) ...

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2 comments to Explaining the Difficult-to-Explain

  • Matt

    Wow, that was a great piece by Mr. Domini. A must read for fans of serious fiction. I cant wait for the second part.

  • Scott Garson

    a really terrific piece…. very much looking forward to Part II..

    one thought re: criticism: people who do film criticism tend to focus on commercial releases as well but i think they may be more conscious of that as a choice. If they’re spending their time on Crash, instead of In the Company of Men, for instance, what they end up saying may have more relevance, as they see it. People have seen the film, Hollywood has called it important: academics like this situation–like being able to say, Let’s take a closer look….

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