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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 […]

Life Big Read Question Thread 3

We are in Week 4. Give us your questions and thoughts right here.

For my own part, you may have noticed that I didn’t do some summarizing thoughts + a poll last Friday like I usually do. Reason being, I was out of town camping in the woods.

But that experience did give me an interesting perspective on Life A User’s Manual. Of course whenever you go camping you have to build a fire, and whenever you build a fire you enter into one of the strangest, most human experiences possible. What I’m referring to is that hypnotic sensation of watching a fire burn over the course of hours, watching these flames that you’ve just nurtured to life consume themselves, plus, of course, carefully tending the fire along the way to keep everything in good order. It’s the only experience I can think of that I probably share with the earliest human beings to walk the Earth.

For me, it’s a profound experience because, well, other than art in museums I don’t tend to sit and stare at things for any length of time (I stopped watching TV years ago), and so to suddenly be drawn into the experience of watching that fire is surprising, to say the least.

I mention all this because self-consuming quests is a very big them of Life, and of life, perhaps the theme in both. And as we consider Bartlebooth’s motivation for this quest he is undertaking, it might be worth while to think about how it feels to watch a fire.

And now an observation–did everyone notice the word isograms on page 298? I didn’t know what an isogram was, so I looked it up, and it is a word or phrase with nonrepeating letters. According to Wikipedia, the longest isogrammic word in the world is “subdermatoglyphic.” You can find out more here.

I thought it was interesting that Perec uses isogram as part of the title of the fictional scholarly paper “Hariri revisited: Crosswords and Isograms.” Just thinking about isogrammic crosswords gives me headaches, but I’m sure Perec would have loved to make one.

And now a question: What did you think was the significance of Gregoire Simpson [265 - 73] a man who sort of slowly recedes from life until he disappears into nothingness. In the essay I mentioned earlier this week, Josipovici identifies him with the protagonist of Perec’s early, short novel A Man Asleep. In a book full of so many fantastical, action-packed stories, this one is oddly mute, and his relationship to things is strange as well (in the context of the book).

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2 comments to Life Big Read Question Thread 3

  • When I read ‘Gregoire Simpson’, the first thing that popped into my head was Kafka’s ‘Gregor Samsa’, and that’s as far as I got, my brain not being used to firing too many neurons in succession.

  • Gilly

    The paper maybe be fictional but Hariri was a real person, Al-Hariri of Basra (1054-1122) He was famous for his maqāmāt Al-Hariri – I looked this up on Wikipedia and found the following: “Both authors’ maqāmāt center on trickster figures whose wanderings and exploits in speaking to assemblies of the powerful are conveyed by a narrator. The protagonist is a silver-tongued hustler, a rogue drifter who survives by dazzling onlookers with virtuoso displays of rhetorical acrobatics, including mastery of classical Arabic poetry (or of biblical Hebrew poetry and prose in the case of the Hebrew maqāmāt), and classical philosophy. Typically, there are 50 unrelated episodes in which the rogue character, often in disguise, tricks the narrator out of his money and leads him into various straitened, embarrassing, and even violent circumstances. Despite this serial abuse, the narrator-dupe character continues to seek out the trickster, fascinated by his rhetorical flow.” This had many echoes for me of what Perec is doing in Life. There is an illustration from a copy in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and it’s fascinating to imagine that Perec would have been familiar with this very book.

    Gregoire Simpson is a strange character. It’s as though he is impervious to the myriad riches of Perec’s Paris: to him everything that Perec sees as so different and distinct is all part of a featureless landscape. He makes lists and sets himself tasks, follows bizarre itineraries, but they are ridiculous and futile. He is like a shadow Perec, Perec on a bad day.

    I became intrigued by the cats in the stories. They appear all over the place. The most famous photo of Perec is with his cat on his shoulder (interesting that Scott uses a similar photo with cat as his profile picture) and his perceptive observations of cats reveal him as a cat-lover. I came across a series of photos of writers and their cats http://writersandkitties.tumblr.com/. I found these very attractive and appealing. I think cats like writers because they sit at home for long periods of time which cats find restful.

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