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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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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 […]

Hooray for USA

Surprisingly enough, John Dos Passos’s USA Trilogy was the 15th-best-selling title in the Library of America series, out of some 240 titles. He’s right up there with Tennessee Williams, Dashiell Hammett, James Baldwin, and Walt Whitman.

Also of note: Dos Passos didn’t even make the top 15 last year, so maybe there’s a resurgence of interest?

I’m guessing he got a bit of a boost because there’s no other handy, one-volume edition of the trilogy on the market, while many other LOA authors are readily available in much cheaper editions, but still. Impressive.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Dos Passos's USA Trilogy Not to be forgotten. But Hemingway’s friendship with Dos Passos was already strained by the publication, in 1936, of “The Big Money,” the third novel...
  2. Anti-USA Ted Gioia’s takedown of John dos Passos’s U.S.A. Trilogy in the LARB feels rather light to me. It’s not so much that I don’t think...
  3. USA Read-a-Thon Kicks Off Andrew Seal has made his first post on his summer read of John Dos Passos' USA Trilogy. He breaks down some of the key characters...
  4. Read U.S.A. Today For those who don't quite find The Summer of Genji to their liking, may I suggest Andrew Seal's summer read of John Dos Passos' U.S.A....
  5. Feelings From a longish post at The Mumpsimus: Modern day American fiction has evolved into a sort of psychological shorthand, in which physically descriptive details and...

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4 comments to Hooray for USA

  • I’d like to think that sensible readers became united in their contempt for cut-and-paste Philistines like Ted Gioia. :) But you raise an interesting point, Scott. Are people drawn to Dos Passos not only because it is a snazzy single volume to bide vast chunks of time, but because they are looking for some fictional epic which explains how our nation went off the rails? Where is America’s answer to Marias or Knausgaard?

  • admin

    Hey Ed,

    Speaking for myself, I got my copy of USA as a single volume, but I had to go to the UK to do it! I do much prefer that to having the three separate volumes.

    “Where is America’s answer to Marias or Knausgaard?” is a very good question. It’s one I’ve asked myself at various points, and I’m not sure there’s a good answer . . .

  • David Long

    The Trilogy still awaits me . . . but I want to put in a plug for MANHATTAN TRANSFER, which contains some really fine writing. Here’s a tiny taste:

    Once out on Broadway again she felt very merry. She stood in the middle of the street waiting for the uptown car. An occasional taxi whizzed by her. From the river on the warm wind came the long moan of a steamboat whistle. In the pit inside her thousands of gnomes were building tall brittle glittering towers. The car swooped ringing along the rails, stopped. As she climbed in she remembered the smell of Stan’s body sweating in her arms. She let herself drop into a seat, biting her lips to keep from crying out. God it’s terrible to be in love. Opposite two men with chinless bluefish faces were talking hilariously, slapping fat knees.

    IN THE PIT INSIDE HER THOUSANDS OF GNOMES WERE BUILDING TALL BRITTLE GLITTERING TOWERS. Woman on the street after sex. Wow.

  • I know I’ve long appreciated the hell out of the trilogy. I understand it doesn’t quite accomplish what it sets out to do, but it fulfills a promise of American literature very few other books have, plus the chunked journalism and mini-bios combine for a project our writers have fled from, either into the onanism of Roth and Updike, the confused paranoia of DeLillo and Pynchon, or the dirty miniatures of Raymond Carver.

    You really don’t have this anymore, and I think we need it. I’m a bit irked how few editions have the Reginald Marsh illustrations, however.

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