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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.

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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

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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.


  • 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 […]

Favorite Reads of 2010: The Literary Conference by Cesar Aira


All my favorite reads of 2010 collected here.

If I could be King for one year, what I’d do is call together 10 or 15 of the best Spanish-languge translators I could find, and I’d set ‘em loose on Cesar Aira. Between the translators’ skills, Aira’s naturally beautiful writing, and the fact that his novels tend to be very short, with any luck we’d get through a good quarter of the 80+ Aira titles that remain to be translated into English.

Maybe we could even establish the Cesar Aira Press and just publish Aira titles exclusively over the next 5 – 10 years. His books are all so different from one another that I bet we could cultivate different readerships for each one (plus the people who already know and love Aira and will read whatever he publishes). And given Aira’s continuing (even accelerating) productivity, he’d keep us busy after we polished off his backlist.

To see why I’m such an Aira adherent, go ahead the look at The Literary Conference, the one Aira title to make its way into English this year (New Directions has plans for more next year, one hopes, more thereafter). Reviewing it in The National, I wrote:

The kernel of the plot is the idea to take a cell from Fuentes and clone it into an army, a metaphor for Aira’s own status as a prolific writer, firing off experiment after experiment and conquering his rivals by sheer ubiquity.

Later on there will be further conflations of fiction and reality: a play-within-the-novel (authored by César Aira, of course, and performed at the literary conference in his honour) about Eve as a “clone” of Adam; a love story involving a beautiful woman from Aira’s past; and, last but not least, enormously destructive worms that make mincemeat of the Venezuelan army.

That’s a lot to fit into 85 pages, and Aira is indeed an author who loves to keep multiple balls in the air at once, yet he has a way of making his novels feel extemporaneous and fun despite the heavy metaphors and philosophical implications seething out of almost every sentence. Aira writes with what Italo Calvino called “lightness” – a quality the latter held in the highest esteem and which he likened to Perseus (the writer) beheading Medusa (reality) while viewing her through a mirror and standing on the “very lightest of things, the winds and clouds”. Aira is just the kind of writer to assault reality while seeming to dance about around it on a current of nothingness. His wispy books rarely run far beyond 100 pages, and he continually employs an ironic, bemused tone that can turn even the heaviest matters to comedy.

All my favorite reads of 2010 collected here.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Favorite Reads of 2010: The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz The Golden Age really, really surprised me. I selected this book for my translated literature book club at local indie bookstore The Booksmith, pretty much...
  2. Ghosts by Cesar Aira in NYTBR, Eventually The Literary Saloon reports that the NYTBR is finally catching on about Cesar Aira. That's good for them. And while you wait for them to...
  3. Another Convert to Cesar Aira Andrew Seal discovers Ghosts by Cesar Aira and pens a nice post on it: Thomas Mann is mentioned near the end (in a quote I’ll...
  4. Cesar Aira At Feria Internacional del Libro de Guayaquil Nice write-up on Cesar Aira, who was speaking at the Book Fair in Guayaquil, Peru. The piece opens with a typically modest statement from the...
  5. Cesar Aira Interview Very lengthy interview with Cesar Aira in Letras Libres. Aira is his usual irascible self, with some intereting thoughts on translation: Quisiera ahora hablar de...

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6 comments to Favorite Reads of 2010: The Literary Conference by Cesar Aira

  • bert hirsch

    The Literary Conference by Cesar Aira
    This was the first book I have read by Cesar Aira. Having read essays and reviews about him for some time I anticipated with excitement reading a piece by this “prolific and experimental modernist” from Argentina. Aged 62, he has written over 60 books with only a few translated into English.
    The Literary Conference is a brief piece, more a long short story of fantasia than a full length novel or even novella. The book starts with Mr. Aira solving a centuries’ long riddle, The Macuto Line, an anchored rope line lying off the coast of Venezuela near Caracas. The legend is that if solved, the discoverer will find a hidden treasure and rest assured the narrator pulls on the rope at just the right time of day and angle and after vibrating with great import the hidden treasure rises out of the sea and Mr. Aira finds himself with fame and fortune.
    What had initially brought him to Venezuela was a Literary Conference and his plot to clone an exact copy of the Mexican writer, Carlos Fuentes. Why Fuentes? One can only assume that it is a joke and Fuentes is the butt of it. The cloning experiment quickly goes awry and a catastrophe of great proportion besets the city.
    Interrupting the action is a strange performance of one of Aira’s earlier plays performed by University students at the local airport. Attended by all of the conference’s participants (including Carlos Fuentes and his wife); it, too, is a great success and again Aira becomes the toast of the conference, fawned over by students and writers during a night of wine and celebration.
    Interspersing the story is Aira’s longing to be re-united with an old flame, Amelia.
    The cloning experiment goes terribly wrong. Instead of cloning Fuentes, a single cell of his silk tie is cloned, and giant silk worms the size of football fields descend from the mountains surrounding this city in Venezuela threatening the lives of thousands. In a mad dash, Aira commandeers a car and drives into the mountain reversing the experiment and everything returns to normal.
    What to make of this tale is hard to fathom. I was left mildly disappointed. Its brevity saved it for I had not invested too much time and effort in reading it.
    Is it a major joke on Fuentes; on literary conferences; on the vanity of writers; on the quest for fool’s gold; or, just a hallucinatory psychedelic dream Aira had while intoxicated one night? The reader is free to make a choice.
    A humorous tale worth reading for a glimpse into the imaginative world of César Aira.

  • Scott

    Hey Scott–

    A new Aira, The Seamstress and the Wind, is up for pre-order at Amazon, with a 30 June 2011 release date. There are also new ones from Enrique Vila-Matas (Never Any End to Paris) and Horacio Castellanos Moya (Tyrant Memory)and of course Roberto Bolano coming in 2011

  • Neil Griffin

    I’m about to start Ghosts, which is one of his that I haven’t heard anybody rave about. I wish I’d started off with this one instead, since I hear he’s hit or miss.

  • Neil: I’ve said a number of very nice things about Ghosts on this site. Plus, is came extremely close to winning last year’s Best Translated Book Award. It’s a great book.

    And in my experience, Aira has been all hit.

  • Muzzy

    Those worms! Those crazy blue worms!

    Up until that last chapter and the arrival of the worms, I was all over loving this little book.

  • Neil Griffin

    Thanks Scott. I’ll check it out in the next few weeks.

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