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.


  • 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 […]

Milan Kundera at 80

Kundera
Milan Kundera
is an author I could stand to read more of (I've only read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, although I did like it a lot). Now that he's 80, they're beginning to mark the occasion.

Geordie Williamson at The Australian has a nice, if occasionally inconsistent, tribute to Kundera:

But these fictions were always more than Iron Curtain exotica.
Kundera's talent, though unevenly applied throughout his career, has
always been impressive in essence and deeply original. His method has
been to graft abstract philosophical ideas with fictional invention to
create narrative cyborgs: intellectually speculative, formally
experimental, intermittently essayistic, yet warm-blooded, grounded in
human experience. His characters are not mere automatons, programmed
with pure theory and set to shuffling: they are sophisticated neural
networks that grow through those dilemmas of love, history, nation and
politics the author obliges them to confront.

Few, for example, have read and fewer understand German philosopher
Martin Heidegger when he writes about truth and untruth, and their
relation to human freedom (me included). But everyone can appreciate
Sabina, the embodiment of his ideas in The Unbearable Lightness of
Bein
g.

One wonders how Williamson knows that Sabina embodies Heidegger's ideas if he doesn't understand them . . .

Later on, Williamson marks the turn in Kundera's fiction post-Iron Curtain:

It is difficult to know how consciously Kundera incorporated this
new political and cultural dispensation into his writing. But with his
turn to French in the 1990s came an increased interest in philosophy at
the expense of politics. Although these later novels were
well-received, re-reading the reviews it is hard toavoid the sense that
while his aphoristic intelligence remained undimmed, Kundera's
characters, now often Gallic, no longer at the pointy end of
20th-century history, had grown insubstantial. As Geoff Dyer, one of
Kundera's strongest English advocates, admitted of 1990's Immortality:

I find I don't much care about Kundera's characters in their (chic,
bourgeois) environment. I love Kundera speculating about his
characters, but when the characters are on their own, when he is not
around, in other words, when he is not looking, Iskip.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Milan Kundera in Czech Who whould have thought it would take them this long. Milan Kundera wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Czech (Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí) back in...
  2. Kundera Milan Kundera’s got a new book about fiction out. Reviewed in the SF Chron: In his latest essay, "The Curtain," Milan Kundera embarks on a...
  3. Great Literature of the Austro-Hungarian Empire Last week I knocked off Stefan Zweig’s excellent (and possible uncompleted) novel The Post-Office Girl while winding up the last of rhte BTB 2008 longlist....
  4. Kafkaish Interview The Harpers blog has a worthwhile interview with James Hawes, who wrote that new book about Kafka that has a lot of Germans in a...

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4 comments to Milan Kundera at 80

  • I have little time for critics who think – as Williamson seems to suggest – that fiction is only ever pressing when read against a background of historical events.
    Kundera did not increase “his interest in philosophy at the expense of politics” – it’s only critics in their “chic, bourgeois environment” who think they can be separated into commodious entities.

  • Coincidentally I watched the film of The Unbearable Lightness of Being tonight. It has been several years since I read the book but it is a reasonably good adaptation.

  • Still can’t get enough of Kundera. In fact, I added him to my top 100 books on totalitarianism list.

  • What a nice Kundera essay! (BTW, have I told you am a massively major fan of MK?).
    The best thing about Kundera is his philosophic humor and light reading style. I’d recommend Book of Laughter and Forgetting, or for something earlier The Joke.
    Conventional wisdom says that Kundera lost his magic touch in the 90s. But I found his last work Ignorance to be first rate.
    Also, his most recent essay collection The Curtain is a masterpiece. It talks about the history of the European novel among other things. I savored every page.
    I made a few more remarks about Kundera a year ago.
    The key test is whether Kundera remains relevant post-Iron Curtain. I think he does. When I read ULOB, I find the historical facts described ironically. Communism was a backdrop and an oppositional ideology, but Kundera was more focused on art and humor than politics.
    That said, I still believe Kundera’s characters are a bit flat.

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