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 Legacy by Sybille Bedford March 15, 2015
    Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedfor […]
  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
    Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Gr […]
  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
    New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, wa […]
  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
    This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countr […]
  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
    The Fall of Language in the Age of English stirred up debate upon its publication in Japan in 2008, and it’s possible it will do so in the U.S. with its arrival in Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter's translation. In their introduction, Yoshihara and Winters Carpenter, point out that Japanese reviewers accused Mizumura of being a jingoist, an e […]
  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
    Another View demonstrates exciting potential in translation study and praxis. It is especially significant in deconstructing assumptions about fluency and linguistic identity. The author makes some persuasive arguments for considering and even preferring non-native translation of texts, the most controversial of which is the possibility that linguistic compe […]
  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
    Despite South Korea having the kind of vibrant literary scene you'd expect from a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we're still not exactly inundated with English translations of South Korean fiction. Given this dearth, Dalkey Archive Press's Library of Korean Literature series, twenty five titles published in collab […]
  • B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal by J.C. Hallman March 14, 2015
    here’s a conspicuous history of books that simply should not work: Books like U & I by Nicholson Baker, a book-length exercise in “memory criticism,” where Baker traces Updike’s influence on his own writing life while studiously not actually re-reading any of Updike’s books. Or books like Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer’s book that procrastinates away from […]
  • The Valerie Miles Interview March 14, 2015
    The idea was to uncover the secret life of these texts, why do their creators consider them their best work? What’s the clandestine, the underground, the surreptitious meaning or attachment? Where’s the kernel, the seed from which a body of work grew, what the driving obsession? Is it something sentimental, something technical, maybe even something spiritual […]
  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
    Look up at the sky, or down into the ocean, and what color do you see? We see blue, but not Homer—he never once employs the term throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, famously calling the sea "wine-dark" and the heavens "bronze." Neither did the Greek philosopher Xenophanes say blue—he described the rainbow as having only three colors. Th […]

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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