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 […]

Lost in the Funhouse

Lostinthefunhouse It was while reading DFW’s long story (novella, really) "Westward Goes the Course of Empire" (from Girl with Curious Hair) that I first heard of John Barth’s classic story, Lost in the Funhouse." DFW’s story itself was an attempt to destroy the world created by "Lost in the Funhouse;" in "Westward Goes," DFW referrs to "Lost in the Funhouse" as "the greatest metafictional story ever." Then I saw on Girl With Curious Hair’s copyright page that DFW tells us that portions of his collection were first scribbled in the margins of "Lost in the Funhouse."

I quickly realized there was a serious gap in my reading.

When my copy of Barth’s collection Lost in the Funhouse arrived, I first turned to the book’s seventh story, "Lost in the Funhouse." (Unlike some collections, Lost in the Funhouse is meant to be a cohesive whole, and you may even see some benefits to reading it all in order.) Some of Barth’s technique seemed somewhat dated (largely because so many writers were inspired to imitate the very story I was reading), but it was clear that I was in the presence of a master. Regardless of my familiarity with the metafictional aspects, the story was brilliantly conceived, a layered work that both captured the tried-and-true essentials of voice and plot while making implicit, profound points about writing and authorship.

Perhaps the most efficient way to describe "Lost in the Funhoues" is as follows: In the story Barth includes a diagram, with four points labeled A, B, C, and D. A corresponds to a story’s beginning, B it’s instigating incident, C it’s climax, and D its conclusion. Included at the beginning of Lost in the Funhouse is a strip of paper (the longest and shortest story ever). On one side are the words "ONCE UPON A TIME THERE" on the other side ""WAS A STORY THAT BEGAN". We are encouraged to cut the slip of paper out and connect points A, B, C, and D (labeled on the corners of the paper) to make a mobius strip. If you were to do that, the points A, B, C, and D on the strip would bear the same relationship to one another as do the points A, B, C, and D in "Lost in the Funhouse."

I’m finding the rest of this collection to fit this template in one way or another. Some of the stories here have the trappings of the conventional short story–plot, 3-D characters, symbols–but sure enough, Barth finds ways to subvert them (both subtlety and not-so-subtlety). Others of these stories are clearly written to challenge preconceived notions of what a short story is. One of them can have any one of 4 narrators (the 3 characters and Barth himself). Another one consists of the story telling itself.

All the pieces in this collection are united by the common goal of pushing the form forward, of a conscious attempt to not repeat what has come before. It’s an admirable goal, and history has clearly spoken as to whether Barth achieved it or not.

Hopefully, I’ll have time to write more about this collection in upcoming weeks. There’s lots here to talk about.

Previous readings.

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