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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.

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.


  • 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 […]

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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