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 […]

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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