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

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 […]

Friday Column: Give A Book

In 1995 in The New York Review of Books, Brad Leithauser was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to adulate his favorite book ever in the pages of one of the widest-read and most respected literary periodicals in the nation.

Leithauser left little doubt as to the place this book held in his heart:

There are good books and there are great books and there may be a book that is something still more: it is the book of your life. If you’re quite lucky, you may at some point chance upon a novel which inspires so close a kinship that questions of evaluation (Is this book better than merely good? Is it some sort of classic?) become a niggling irrelevance. Luck has everything to do with it. For the sensation I’m describing has its roots in a poignant, tantalizing feeling that this marvelous new addition to your existence, this indelible Presence, has arrived by serendipity.

I dare to say that anyone who is reading this and had read long and closely enough knows exactly the sensation Leithauser describes. His description is lovely, but it is also superfluous–true bibliophiles know just what Leithauser means. I certainly do. From the moment I had read this far in Leithauser’s essay, I knew exactly which book I would devote this honor to.

So which book is the book of Leithauser’s life?

And the book of my own life? I remember vividly my initial encounter with it. I finished its last chapters one late afternoon in Rome, seated in an all-but-deserted café. Outside a storm had abruptly blown in and a chill autumn rain was lashing the streets, and I read as though furtively, hunched over the pages. I did this for two reasons. The light had turned dim. And I didn’t want anyone happening to glance my way to notice I was weeping.

The novel was Halldor Laxness’s Independent People.

This is all great, but what comes next is pure genius. How does Leithauser continue to pay homage to Independent People to this day?

Independent People is not hard to come by in the States. When it was published here, in 1946, it was a Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection, and copies regularly turn up in usedbook stores. Provided the price is ten dollars or less, I snap them up whenever I come across them. They make an ideal present—though some explanation may be in order when, arriving at someone’s house for dinner, you hand your host not a bottle of wine but a dusty, almost fifty-year-old book, translated from Icelandic, about sheep farmers. At one point, I’d accumulated more than twenty copies; I rarely have on hand fewer than ten.

Ever since I read my own favorite book in the world, I’d had an idea, even an urge, to evangelize for it. For me, the book sustained a combination of stylistic pleasure, pure comedy, memorable characters that I loved to follow, intellectual elaboration, and plain old plot over an almost miraculously long duration. As long as the book was (and it is long), it still ended far too soon. It was the kind of book that actually inspired thoughts along the lines of "savor this, because you’ll only get to read it for the first time once."

There are books you respect, books that so impress you with their erudition that you go back through them a second and third time and find more and more there to the point that you work yourself into a frenzy. This book is great! But there are other books that on the very first pass through just seem to be wired into your brain. A second and third pass reveals even more, but you don’t really need them; that first time through was so overwhelming that it is the only proof you need of the book’s magnitude.

I’d enjoyed this book so thoroughly, and found its observations about life–especially life in America–so profound that it left me fired with a desire to exhort as many people as I could to read it too. Not for my own benefit, but for the book, for the author, most of all for the readers themselves, whom I believed would find so much to love in this book I loved so much.

I wanted to exhort, but how? I’m not the type of person who goes up to a person I somewhat know and just starts railing to them about books. I’m not even the kind of person who would usually do this, uninvited, to close friends.

That’s why Leithauser’s idea strikes me as ideal. I can simply pick this book up at usedbook stores–they usually have at least one copy on hand–and make stacks of them to give away as gifts. Leithauser’s admission that "some explanation may be in order" makes the perfect opportunity for me to spill my guts to the unsuspecting recipients.

I bring this up now because Christmastime is undoubtedly the height of my book-giving and -receiving for my year. I imagine that is probably is for a lot of you as well. It’s the one time of year that I feel correct in giving good books as gifts, even to people I wouldn’t normally think to give books to. This contrasts with the rest of the year, where I tend to be quite careful about giving books to people unless I’m absolutely sure they will end up reading them. I hate the idea of a book given for a birthday or some other occasion placed high up on a shelf and left to sit there forever.

This is why Leithauser’s idea so appeals to me: the audacity of sauntering in–apropos of nothing–and slapping a book into somebody’s hand (complete with explanation of how said book was the greatest reading experience of your life) might just be enough to get anyone to read your book. Imagine if someone came to your next party, gave you a copy of, say, White Noise, and explained that they had brought it to you because it is the greatest book they’ve ever read. That might carry more cache than even that paperback given you by your best friend for Christmas.

So, this Christmas, I’d like to pass along the idea that book-giving need not be a once-a-year occasion. Look deep into your own shelves and think about what’s your own favorite book ever and start giving it away. If you live in a moderate-sized city on up, you can probably even find all the copies you’ll ever need in your local usedbook store. If not, there’s always our two major online retailers, both of which tend to have a steady supply of cheap classics.

As for the book that I’ll give away from now on, readers of this blog should know it well. It is, of course, Infinite Jest.

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4 comments to Friday Column: Give A Book

  • Ok ok ok….now that I’ve found you I feel your Infinite Jest hammer in my head all day long. I’m going to read it starting Jan. 1st. It will be the 2007 life changing book….perhaps…or at least according to you.

  • Mark Fox

    Infinite Jest? Oh, that will make you real popular! But for the record, I have two–a first edition, and a later edition signed by the author. They live side by side on my bookshelves.

  • Funny, the Laxness book has been on my short list all year. Yes, it’s great that often you can buy used copies of great books via half or amazon for under $5.
    I used to buy multiple copies of Candide at college and give them away as presents. (that was when used bookstores were selling them for under a dollar).
    Oddly, I had a copy of Infinite Jest,(I have not read it). I think I actually may have lost it.
    Because of the efficiencies of the used book market and interlibrary loan, nowadays the most important thing is not the physical object but simply the title. And here’s the title of a book I read this year–easily the best I’ve read in the last five years. It’s Dino Buzatti’s Restless Nights, and it’s not cheap. $45 (for 100 pages of short stories).

  • Leithauser has a great idea, and I’m considering doing likewise with Knut Hamsun’s “Hunger.” My only qualm is that by snapping up every used bookstore copy I can find, I deprive some stranger the joy of stumbling across it. Maybe I can buy them in bulk somewhere.

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