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

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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.

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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.


  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić September 15, 2014
    As Drndić reiterates throughout the novel, “Behind every name there is a story.” And Haya Tedeschi’s story is draped in death. Born to a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism and tacitly supported the Fascists in Italy, Haya was a bystander to the Holocaust. She attended movies while Jews and partisans were transported to concentration camps; she pored […]
  • The Tree With No Name by Drago Jančar September 15, 2014
    At the opening of chapter 87—the first chapter found in The Tree with No Name—Janez Lipnik finds himself up a tree, shoeless, and lost in the Slovenian countryside. He makes his way to a house where he is taken in by a woman teacher who is waiting for her lover, a soldier. It becomes clear we are at the height of World War II. Soon after, we follow Lipnik […]
  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
    Here, at the midpoint of his narrative, Bernhard, the affectless and purposeless protagonist of "The Unseen," experiences existential near-emancipation at dusk. This retreat toward obscurity in terse, direct language—thematic and stylistic markers of each work in the collection—comes immediately after Bernhard’s sister mentions her plans to enterta […]
  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
    In his new book of essays, Berlin Now, Peter Schneider reveals himself as a gnarled Cold Warrior who has been stricken with many of the maladies common to his generation. With the specter of Communism exorcized, his new enemy is Islam. The book is a collection of short interlocking pieces introducing Anglophone readers to Berlin; it is not being published in […]
  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
    “It seemed that the [New Yorker] story—which was in part the result of my dealing with the reception of my novel—had been much more widely received than the novel itself,” says the narrator of Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04. Perhaps this narrator is Lerner himself—at one point he describes 10:04, within its own pages, as “neither fiction nor nonfiction but […]
  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting is a masterful work structured around Robert Smithson’s earthwork “The Spiral Jetty.” Olsen’s novel is comprised of three narrations, written each by a separate member of a family. The husband’s and wife’s texts progress in opposite directions across the book, with each page divided among these two inverted texts; though […]
  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
    In The Ants, we receive a study of existence through ants. That is, there are ants everywhere, ants substituted in every segment of the landscape, yet their behavior seems to reveal something altogether human. Too human. The ants are crushed and disappointed. They are warm and many. They are involved in gang wars and live inside carrot cake. The unique quali […]

Herta Who?

Michael really nails it:

As widely noted, the popular reaction (in the US, especially) to the announcement of who took the Nobel Prize in Literature is: ‘Herta who ?’ — just like last year it was … ‘J.M.G. who ?’ (?), etc. etc. A knee-jerk reaction that’s so predictable and widespread that the European media even take note (and make fun): a dpa report gets the headline «Herta who?» – US-Medien klagen über Entscheidung (‘US media complain about decision’) in Die Zeit — or, as De Morgen put it much more clearly in a Dutch translation of the same piece: Amerikaanse media: “Müller, who the f*** is Müller?”.

Surprisingly, the ‘Herta who ?’-attitude extends to outlets who really should know better: there are many examples, but surely among the most outrageous is The Washington Post, with Mary Jordan’s Author’s Nobel Stirs Shock-and-’Bah’

Like most parochial Americans, I had no clue who Herta Mueller was when the award was announced, but unlike many of my countrymen and -women I was at least able to fairly quickly pick up the fact that she’s considered by many as Germany’s leading author, or at least among them.

Of course, Americans have never heard of her, so why really gives a damn about an author who is one of the leading writers in the world’s fourth-largest economy?

But if I could tone down the irony for a moment, it seems like the Swedes have climbed out of their Jelinek-Pinter-Pamuk slump (too weird, too obvious, too mixed) really hit a groove. After reading some book by JMG Le Clezio, I think he’s a great pick, and from all (knowledgeable) reports, Mueller sounds like a great one too.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. The German Take on Herta Mueller This being the Internet and all, I was hoping to find a good German take on the Nobel Prize, and now I think I’ve done...
  2. Herta Mueller Nobel Prize Roundup Here's some coverage of that little award they gave yesterday. Herta Mueller at Amazon Mueller's Books Available in English The Land of Green Plums The...
  3. Nobel Prize to Herta Mueller I’m sure most of you know this by now. The Atlantic rounds up some responses from the parochial Americans. ...
  4. Culturally Insular This has to be the dumbest thing to come out of the Swedish Academy since Knut got all up in arms about giving Elfriede Jelinek...
  5. Nobel It’s October, which means that we’re all about to hear who wins the Booker. The Nobel Prize follows shortly, which means that we’ll soon be...

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3 comments to Herta Who?

  • I don’t know why everyone was so surprised: Mueller was 4/1 odds, behind only Amos Oz, at Ladbrokes. I took a look at her background a bit and thought her themes / topics too provincial and past-date to merit such an award. Clearly, my young American view of the world is out of alignment with the powers that be in Europe.
    Not to say that Mueller is a poor choice. I have no doubt that she’s a good writer, at all; it just seemed oddly insular when there are so many worthy authors in other parts of the world. Felt the same about Pinter. I’m not a proponent of the top US choices, either. Just seemed, I don’t know, very 1980s to choose an old Cold Warrior.

  • I don’t think it’s typical American pbias. The response from Europe, particularly Germany, is pretty lukewarm. No one seems really crazy about her, no one’s in love with her, no one seems to be rushing around screaming “Oh, this is great, you’ve GOT to read Herta Mueller.”
    http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/08/european-reaction-to-nobel-is-varied-and-sometimes-harsh/

  • Basically, I have to wonder if Herta Muller is scoffed in the U.S. because she isn’t American or because they’ve never heard of her. And if they’ve never heard of her, whose fault is that, Americans for not seeking out her books or publishers for not providing them? And why would publishers not provide these books if they’re deemed so good that much of Germany puts her on the bestseller lists, she’s won numerous awards, and now the Nobel folks decided to give her the nudge too?
    I’m sure there are many (many) American and worldwide writers who deserve this prize as well. I’m sure Muller does too. It’s just that there seem to be two arguments floating around, one about the anger in the U.S. over the alleged European-centric behavior, and the other revolving around the “Herta who” point.
    Hm. Too many questions. Never a good sign…

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