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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

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.


  • 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 […]

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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