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.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:


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.


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

Kobo Abe Is Pretty Great, So Far

Woman-in-the-dunes If you know Kobo Abe, it's probably as the guy who wrote the book that became the movie about a Japanese businessman trapped into a giant hole in the desert, where he is forced to shovel sand and eventually comes to see his prison as his home.

I watched The Woman in the Dunes not too long ago, and now I've gotten on an Abe kick. I'm currently working through The Broken Map, which shares a lot of themes with Dunes: a pervasive sense of futility; the almost imperceptibly gradual but profound transformation of identity; a Kafkaesque ability to generate the binding rules of its universe as the story unfolds.

I'm hungry for more, and next up is what appears to be a truly strange work: The Box Man (whose title is just as literal as you'd like it to be). Just paging through, the book is full of found documents imported whole-cloth, typographical tricks, and a general weirdness that feels both sinister and playful.

Abe seems to really, really be my kind of an author, a very original voice that sounds sort of like Ishiguro, although making Ishiguro appear utterly mannered (except, perhaps, in The Unconsoled, and to a lesser extent Never Let Me Go). That said, I am a bit frightened (albeit in a good way) by Inter Ice Age 4 and would be curious to hear from anyone who has tackled this one.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Kobo Abe At The Guardian, David Mitchell ponders Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes: In Abe’s novels, plot and character are usually subservient to idea and...
  2. Contest Winners: Five Great Indie Bookstores We have some winners from last week's contest. Chosen at random from all entries, here they are, and here are their favorite indie bookstores,...
  3. 30 Great Untranslated Argentines Chad Post blogs about a PDF from Frankfurt detailing 30 "great" Argentine writers who have yet to be translated into English. For those who choose...
  4. Great Literature of the Austro-Hungarian Empire Last week I knocked off Stefan Zweig’s excellent (and possible uncompleted) novel The Post-Office Girl while winding up the last of rhte BTB 2008 longlist....

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2 comments to Kobo Abe Is Pretty Great, So Far

  • P.T. Smith

    Oh, just bizarre.
    I finished reading all of his translated works a couple weeks ago and just last night started watching Woman in the Dunes. I didn’t make it through, but it was late and I was exhausted, the film is stunning; if you haven’t watched Pitfall, an earlier movie written by Abe and also directed by Teshigahara, check it out.
    I loved the Box Man. It’s strange without losing the emotional/human content, which can easily get passed over in works like Abe’s. It’s also funny, really funny. I’m reminded of David Foster Wallace’s piece on the humor in Kafka. People forget! People don’t notice. Abe is often wildly funny.
    The other work that really jumps out for me as being a favorite of his is The Ark Sakura. It’s a little less weird (still, of course, weird) than some of his others, and deals more directly with the post-atomic bomb fear. Oh, and also human failure.
    Inter Ice Age 4 didn’t really sit well with me. It felt a bit disjointed and stiff (much like his last work, Kangaroo Notebook). There are sections I loved, parts that really worked, but I struggled to put it together as a whole (which may be my own failure, or could very well be the intention). Either way, it’s worth reading, but is just on of my least favorite works by Abe, whom I really enjoy overall.
    I may have more thoughts later, when I am not at work and when I have the books in front of me.

  • Michael

    I really liked Secret Rendezvous. Very weird but very good.

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