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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 […]

John Biguenet, Rising Water; Horacio Castellanos Moya, Senselessness

Risingwater
We are not lacking for literary responses to Hurricane Katrina; the one that has engaged me the most so far is playwright and novelist John Biguenet’s. As a New Orleans resident, Biguenet wrote about the disaster’s aftermath for the NY Times. He also used the disaster as a backdrop for a play, Rising Water (video info and stills from the performance), the first of a trilogy considering Katrina. After hearing him speak about it, I hope it’s coming to the Bay Area soon.

I recently had the opportunity to see Biguenet discuss Rising Water at an event put on by the Center for the Art of Translation. The play involves a couple trapped in the attic of their house, watching the water slowly creep up the stairs and into their refuge. As Biguenet explained, their likely fate was rather unenviable: many real-life Katrina victims did just as the couple in the play did, climbing from living rooms to attics as the water invaded their home. The lucky ones were able to punch out a window and escape to the roof before the water enveloped their home completely; those that didn’t faced likely dehydration and death while waiting for rescue that was criminally slow in coming.

This was an event by the Center for the Art of Translation, and though Biguenet published his play in English, there is translation involved. For the play, he integrated a haunting short story he wrote about the wife and daughter of a ship’s captain who died and are buried at sea. For the play, the story is told by one protagonist to the other as they pass the time it the attic. Biguenet read his story to us, and then we watched the "translated" version by performed by two actors as a story-within-a-story in the play.

After the performance, Biguenet discussed the metaphorical significance of the water in his play. He considered the play primarily about the couple’s very personal response to crisis and likely imminent death. Only secondly was it about the disaster, and for him with water worked on multiple levels: he mentioned the titular rising water being something that every couple faces, either as strife due to a souring relationship or as an inevitable part of life and death. He said that the story he translated into the language of the stage was a way to implicate the hurricane while maintaining focus on the central relationship.

Moya
The week following Biguenet
, I saw novelist Horacio Castellenos Moya read from his new novel, Senselessness, at City Lights. Moya is either an aspiring actor, someone who has internalized the narrative voice of this novel, or simply a person who has given this reading many, many times, because his interpretation of the protagonist’s inner monologue was spot-on. Moya speaks English with a heavy accent, and this perfectly suited the narrator, especially as Moya repeatedly returned to the narrator’s refrain: "I am not compleet in de MIND."

Moya read from the novel’s first pages, in which two things are repeated again and again: "I am not complete in the mind" and "one-thousand-one-hundred pages" (the length of a report on atrocities the narrator is editing). Hearing Moya speak these refrains with emphasis and color hammered home the importance that these two quotes have for the novels opening section. Hearing Moya read also worked as a curious kind of re-reading–while he read I started seeing new associations between the starting chapter and the rest of the book.

Publisher Barbara Epler and translator Katherine Silver were also on hand for the event. I was surprised to hear Epler say that she had first learned of Moya from novelist Francisco Goldman, who had also first brought Roberto Bolano to her attention. At the event, Epler mentioned that the next Bolano novel from New Directions would be The Ice Rink, and that, in addition to his poems and novels, they will be publishing a book of his essays. Epler mentioned that much more Cesar Aira is on the way, as well as another novel from Moya (I’ll be eagerly waiting), with a title currently translated as "She-Devil in the Mirror."

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6 comments to John Biguenet, Rising Water; Horacio Castellanos Moya, Senselessness

  • Thanks for the summary of the Moya reading. Sounds like he should put out an audio book! I just picked up Senselessness the other day based on reviews here and elsewhere. The description as “Bernhardian” is what hooked me.
    Are there any other writers who do the Bernhardian thing well? The only one I can think of offhand is Tim Parks, particularly in Europa and some of his other novels. (Or at least they struck me as mimicking Bernhard somewhat — I don’t know if that’s a common opinion.)

  • Drew North

    I believe I read an excerpt of the Moya novel at the Words Without Borders website some time ago – the writer who came to mind at the time, rhythmically, was Saramago. Would anyone familiar with both care to make a comparison?

  • Kevin,
    You should see the review over at Ready Steady Blog. That’s the best one I’ve seen on the Bernhard connections, and I’m sure the review’s author could help you out with other Bernhardians.
    Drew,
    I’ve read one of Saramago’s novels; based on that I think there’s a fairly lare gap between Saramago and Moya. Moya’s sentences (again, on the evidence of one novel) keep changing register and direction, whereas Saramago’s seem more monotonic.

  • Scott, thanks for the pointer.
    I’ve read a few of Saramago’s novels and I’d agree with your comparison. Saramago is more run-on, fast-paced, and Bernhard is more musical in a sense, with repetitions and emphasized phrases.
    Another long-sentence writer is Bohumil Hrabal. He fits somewhere between Saramago and Bernhard on this scale, I think.

  • Drew North

    Thanks to you both for the feedback. I’ll seek the Moya out through the Denver Public Library. Saramago has a new novel being published in the U.S. in November, and I hope you will both take a look at it.
    Also, regarding a post or two north of here, I am halfway through the Agualusa novel, and, for what it is worth, I would put it in or around the top ten novels I’ve read this year.

  • Zoloft.

    Zoloft. Zoloft side effects.

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