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 […]

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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