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 Legacy by Sybille Bedford March 15, 2015
    Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedfor […]
  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
    Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Gr […]
  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
    New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, wa […]
  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
    This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countr […]
  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
    The Fall of Language in the Age of English stirred up debate upon its publication in Japan in 2008, and it’s possible it will do so in the U.S. with its arrival in Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter's translation. In their introduction, Yoshihara and Winters Carpenter, point out that Japanese reviewers accused Mizumura of being a jingoist, an e […]
  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
    Another View demonstrates exciting potential in translation study and praxis. It is especially significant in deconstructing assumptions about fluency and linguistic identity. The author makes some persuasive arguments for considering and even preferring non-native translation of texts, the most controversial of which is the possibility that linguistic compe […]
  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
    Despite South Korea having the kind of vibrant literary scene you'd expect from a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we're still not exactly inundated with English translations of South Korean fiction. Given this dearth, Dalkey Archive Press's Library of Korean Literature series, twenty five titles published in collab […]
  • B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal by J.C. Hallman March 14, 2015
    here’s a conspicuous history of books that simply should not work: Books like U & I by Nicholson Baker, a book-length exercise in “memory criticism,” where Baker traces Updike’s influence on his own writing life while studiously not actually re-reading any of Updike’s books. Or books like Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer’s book that procrastinates away from […]
  • The Valerie Miles Interview March 14, 2015
    The idea was to uncover the secret life of these texts, why do their creators consider them their best work? What’s the clandestine, the underground, the surreptitious meaning or attachment? Where’s the kernel, the seed from which a body of work grew, what the driving obsession? Is it something sentimental, something technical, maybe even something spiritual […]
  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
    Look up at the sky, or down into the ocean, and what color do you see? We see blue, but not Homer—he never once employs the term throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, famously calling the sea "wine-dark" and the heavens "bronze." Neither did the Greek philosopher Xenophanes say blue—he described the rainbow as having only three colors. Th […]

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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