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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 […]

Mark Polizzotti on Albert Cossery

Excellent French translator and critic Mark Polizzotti covers Cossery for The Nation.

Interesting contrast between Polizzotti’s take on misogyny in Cossery:

More disturbing is the unmistakable tint of misogyny running throughout these novels, an old-school male chauvinism that neither Cossery’s times nor his culture can excuse. Phrases such as “Gohar was grateful to women because of the enormous sum of stupidity that they brought to human relations,” or “secret and insidious, like a sensual woman’s sighs at the moment of ecstasy,” or “the words of a woman will remain empty of meaning for all eternity” abound, as do traces of the author’s predilection for barely pubescent girls, before womanhood invariably brings out their “thoughtless and vindictive nature.” James Buchan reports that Cossery was briefly married to the French actress Monique Chaumette but that the union failed. Indeed.

And translator Anna Moschovakis whom I interviewed last year:

SE: The portrait of women in The Jokers is not a positive one. They hardly appear as characters, and perhaps the book’s most vivid depiction of them is as distractions for the men in the cafes to ogle. Did you find Cossery, or his work, to be chauvinist?

AM: As any Googler will readily find out, Cossery was a self-proclaimed anarchist who lived in a Parisian hotel and claimed to have slept with more than 2,000 women before dying at the jolly old age of 94. True, three main female characters in The Jokers are archetypes of literary chauvinism: Urfy’s mother, the madwoman in the attic; Amar, the hooker with a heart of gold; and Soad, the would-be Lolita. One could reproach Cossery for a lack of imagination in that regard, a lack that apparently pervades his work, though (not having read all of it yet) I can’t state that with authority. Most articles about Cossery echo his entry in the Encyclopedia of African Literature, which ends with this sentence: “His fiction revolves around men; when women are present they are mostly prostitutes.”

But to see his female characters only in this reductive way is, in a sense, to fall into a chauvinist trap as readers. I found the role of the female characters in The Jokers to be less dismissible than this. Certainly, these women are portrayed with little to no agency over their material existence; their sole power boils down to their ability to occasionally affect the otherwise numb emotional lives of the men in their orbits, eliciting unexpected and usually unwelcome glimmers of tenderness, vulnerability, or shame. But I wouldn’t say that the portrait of the women is any less positive than that of the men. The women recognize the extent to which they are limited by their cultural position (elderly, destitute, privileged), and all the choices they make are legible, reasoned responses to their conditions. Soad is perhaps the most poignant case: wild, infatuated, and unpredictable at the beginning of the story, she is trying to rebel against her Governor’s-lackey father―the picture of a social climbing sycophant―by participating in her idol Heykal’s subversive plot. At the end of the book, she appears for a farewell coffee with Heykal wearing makeup and jewels, gifts from her new, patriarch-approved, class-appropriate love interest. She has been tamed, or has given up, or both, and her defensive misery is equalled by Heykal’s depressed disappointment. There is at that same cafe a little girl who catches Heykal’s eye: in her, he sees a budding rebel in the process of being socially trained by her mother, and he fantasizes about enticing her out of her conventional life, out onto the street. She flirts with him, but then rejects him, turning back to her mother’s lessons.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Six Questions for Anna Moschovakis on The Jokers by Albert Cossery More than with any other novel I've translated, the translation challenges ofThe Jokers caught me by surprise. The descriptive language was so vivid, I didn't...
  2. "Albert Cossery is the best dead writer I’ve discovered this year . . ." That has to be one of the better openings to a book review I read this year. Here' s the rest of that first graf:...
  3. Review of Proud Beggars by Albert Cossery At The National, my review of Proud Beggars, the latest in the miniature explosion of the resurrect-Albert-Cossery industry. The characters in Albert Cossery’s novels are...
  4. Yet Another One-Sentence Book Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius. Reviewed. Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman, it is important to...
  5. Alice Munro's Women Interesting article from The New Republic’s new literary site The Book (truly inspired name), which I’m sure everybody has heard about by now. In the...

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