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.


  • [[there.]] by Lance Olsen December 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen is the author of two recent works, [[there.]] and Theories of Forgetting (FC2). The second presents three narratives in a clearly fictional mode while the first offers day-to-day thoughts on living in another country. We rightly suspect that any artist’s memoir or diary ought to be viewed as written with a prospective public in mind, no matter ho […]
  • Noir and Nihilism in True Detective December 15, 2014
    "It’s just one story. The oldest. . . . Light versus dark." Spanning 8 episodes between January and March of 2014, HBO’s runaway hit True Detective challenged the status quo of contemporary crime drama. The show has been widely celebrated for its philosophy, complexity, and visual aesthetic. Co-starring actors Matthew McConaughey as Rustin "Ru […]
  • The Colonel’s World December 15, 2014
    Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born 1940) is considered by many the living Iranian novelist, a perennial Nobel Prize candidate. Dowlatabadi wrote The Colonel some thirty years ago, because in his own words he had been “afflicted.” The subject forced him to sit at the desk and write nonstop for two years. “Writing The Colonel I felt a strong sense of indignation and pa […]
  • Mr Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn by Alessandro Baricco December 15, 2014
    Alessandro Baricco’s well-crafted, elegant prose seems as though it should create the impression of distance, or of abstraction; instead, the reader of Mr. Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn becomes wholly implicated and immersed, drawn into a dreamy and idiosyncratic world that blurs the division between reader, character and writer. As readers, we expect that th […]
  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash December 15, 2014
    "The paan shop leads to the opening of a tunnel, full of the creatures of the city, and the tears and spit of a fakir." In a single opening line, Uday Prakash sets the scene for the politically incisive, yet intimately human stories of The Walls of Delhi (translated brilliantly from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum). Lest the fakir suggest otherwise, t […]
  • The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation December 15, 2014
    In a speech reprinted in the book, Heim makes a self-deprecating joke about whether the life of a translator is worth reading: “What does a translator do? He sits and translates!” The Man Between serves as a book-length retort by laying bare all the things Heim did: these include persuading the academy that translation is a scholarly (in addition to a creati […]
  • The Prabda Yoon Interview December 15, 2014
    Yes, I think people are not comfortable anymore to write in this straightforward, traditional way, especially the younger, more progressive writers. So it’s interesting—you have social commentary, and you also get a little bit of structural experiment. You have themes that are very, very Thai. I’m actually very interested to see what new writers will come up […]
  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck December 15, 2014
    For Jenny Erpenbeck, no life is lived in an indisputable straight line. Which is why, in her new novel (new in English, though published in 2012 as Aller Tage Abend) she approaches the narrative as a series of potential emotional earthquakes, some which take place, some which might have taken place, all of which reveal something of how political turbulence p […]
  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
    Once, at a writers symposium, William Howard Gass remarked that to substitute the page for the world is a form of revenge for the recognition that "you are, in terms of the so-called world, an impotent nobody." There is inarguably no contemporary writer of American stock in whose work one might locate a more ambitious war of attrition between innov […]
  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
    Luiselli’s first novel, Faces in the Crowd, translated into fluid English by Christina MacSweeney, is the perfect illustration of this attitude toward fiction writing. Narrated in short sections spanning multiple storylines and the better part of one hundred years, it uses "[d]eep excavations" to expose the empty spaces in two lives, those of a you […]

James Wood’s Favorite Reads of 2012

Agree with this one. The refreshing thing about My Struggle is how Knausgaard fails to romanticize his life or fall in to cheap pessimism. Yes, he’s straightforward about what he considers to be the pleasures of his life, and he knows that his lifestyle has a certain hip cachet in Western societies, but he’s honest about what that life is and the costs that must be endured along with it. Many writers and readers could learn from this.

I also loved Karl Ove Knausgaard’s book “My Struggle” (Archipelago), which I reviewed at length in the magazine. I felt that the book didn’t get the attention it deserved. Was it a novel or a memoir, or something in between? Knausgaard has written five more volumes of whatever this book is, and these have made him famous and infamous in his native Norway (where it is reckoned that a fifth of the entire population has read him). So English-speaking readers are going to be able to make up their own minds, at their own speed, as these books appear over the next few years. Knausgaard tells the story, such as it is, of his childhood and adolescence, his marriage, his life as a father, husband, and son, and his desperate need to be a writer. The book is more like a dramatic essay than anything else, and the form allows Knausgaard room for digressions, reflections, asides. This is a book intensely hospitable to ideas, and it is thrilling to witness a properly grave and ironic mind, treating, in a theoretical and philosophical and yet fundamentally unshowy way (a massive difference between Knausgaard and certain show-offy American novelists, who always seem to be squeezing the juices of their obsessive fandom over their cultural subjects), all kinds of elements of life: having children, the working of memory, reading Adorno, playing guitar and drums in crappy rock bands, drinking too much, looking at Constable drawings, sex (good and bad), and death.

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  1. Buddenbrooks: Why Woods? Like Scott, I’m reading the John E. Woods translation of Buddenbrooks.  I confess that my decision to read this particular translation was not the product...
  2. TQC Favorites of 2012: Jeff Bursey Jeff Bursey’s most recent review for The Quarterly Conversation was of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard in the Winter 2013 issue. #1: My Struggle,...
  3. Favorite Reads of 2011: Beckett’s Trilogy I don’t know what to tell you; Beckett’s trilogy is essential. May you all read it before you die. ...
  4. Gabriel Josipovici's Favorite Reads of the Year Saul Bellow, as one might have expected from his novels, was a wonderful letter writer. That his Letters (Penguin) do not quite come into the...
  5. Favorite Reads of the Year (3) 13. The She-Devil in the Mirror by Horacio Castellanos Moya: In my opinion, Castellanos Moya is one of the most interesting Latin American authors to...

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3 comments to James Wood’s Favorite Reads of 2012

  • Pat O'Donnell

    Quoting Wood: “a massive difference between Knausgaard and certain show-offy American novelists, who always seem to be squeezing the juices of their obsessive fandom over their cultural subjects.” Are the certain show-offy American novelists (and the use of the word “certain” here is duplicitous, since Wood does not identify with any degree of certainty who these authors are) squeezing the juices of their obsessive fandom over their cultural subjects (which are, uh, what exactly?) like one would squeeze a lemon over a nice piece of fish, or did he mean to say that they are squeezing the juices of their fandom OUT of their cultural subjects (catechretically, as one would squeeze blood out of a turnip)? Either way, this phrase makes no sense to me, beyond being an example of pointless snarkiness.

  • kiko

    Speaking of snarkiness what does catechretically mean?

    • Pat O'Donnell

      It’s not snarkiness to use a rhetorical term used for a number of things, but in this case, mixing metaphors, like talking about squeezing juice out of a lemon in one moment and blood out of a turnip in the next. I was actually being mildly self-ironic, not snarky toward Wood. And there are these wonderful things called dictionaries if you don’t know the meaning of a word (now THAT is snarky).

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