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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 […]

Letters of William Gaddis

My review of the Letters of William Gaddis, at The Barnes & Noble Review.

Letters can be a mixed bag, this but one has turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the year so far. Certainly if you regard yourself as a writer in any respect, this should be a book you make an effort to read. Aside from that, there’s a lot that should be of interest here to anyone, from a literary, practical, and just plan personal level.

Still, I can think of at least three good reasons to read Gaddis’s letters, now finally available to us in a stately volume edited by longtime Gaddis scholar and critic Steven Moore. The first would be that a better understanding of Gaddis as a human being will surely bring him down to earth for many curious readers who have taken a look at The Recognitions’ 900 pages (or even J R’s 700) and immediately turned elsewhere. Some tourism in Gaddis’ personal life is surely worthwhile if it gets more people to try his books. The second reason is that these letters open a fascinating window onto a lifestyle that seems to be disappearing from the mass conception of what an author is: the non-careerist novelist, for whom writing is more akin to a calling that bobs and weaves through a multi-faceted existence, rather than someone whose personal life is imagined to be nothing but sitting at a desk, writing page after page day after day.

And third and perhaps most important is the opportunity to gauge just why Gaddis wrote – and why he wrote the way he did. In the letters we can finally comprehend his often ambivalent, anxious relationship to his novels, his sporadic, long drawn out mode of composition, the way literary creation clearly draws him in to another space. He evokes it beautifully here, when he was feverishly working to complete J R: “apparently I’m regarded as an ‘experimental’ writer, and one thing that takes so much time with J R seems to be that since it’s almost all in dialogue I’m constantly listening, write a line and then have to stop and listen, does it sound like this character talking?” In a later letter we get an idea of just what called Gaddis to write: “I suppose it has a lot to do with creative lag, the attempt to rekindle one’s fires after the dampened blaze of J R but I’ve simply not yet got any grasp of a central idea for another book of the obsessive proportions that kept both other books going.”

Indeed, the picture that emerges of the off-the-record, daily existence of a literary genius may be the biggest bonus of this treasure-laden volume. . . .

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters I’ve been reading through the Letters of William Gaddis, which will be published by the Dalkey Archive Press in March. Painstakingly edited by longtime...
  2. Beckett’s Letters, Volume 2 They published the second volume of Beckett’s letters in September, and now the TLS has a long review. One of the last of Samuel Beckett’s...
  3. Writing Beckett’s Letters A little more on the awesome pamphlet from the Cahiers series, which I discussed earlier this month. . . . continue reading, and add your...
  4. Writing Beckett’s Letters They’re publishing volume 2 of Beckett’s letters in September. In the meantime, you should have a look at this Cahier, by the volume’s editor on...
  5. Wallace’s Letters Looks like a volume of David Foster Wallace’s letters is in the works. Stephen J. Burn (David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Second Edition: A Reader’s...

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