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 […]

Naked Singularity Big Read: The Experience of Reading ANS

Now that the Naked Singularity Big Read is concluded, we’re running short responses to the book by Big Read participants. Here’s Kevin Ryan Nava discussing A Naked Singularity as an experience of its being written.

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

In a recent pre-review of D.T. Max’s upcoming David Foster Wallace biography, Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story, Lev Grossman asks the question so many young writers—writers who, like Sergio De La Pava, were raised on “E Unibus Pluram” and Consider the Lobster, writerswho, like I, were raised to worship the very novels for which these Big Reads were designed, Life: A User’s Manual and the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy being but a feware currently asking of themselves: is there still room in fiction for Infinite Jests, for Underworlds, for extreme, expansive novels hell-bent on simultaneously attempting to capture the fractal-like complexities of 21st-century life as well as structurally conceding that the whole effort is in vain? De La Pava—who may have evolved as a writer during a postmodernist boom (he spent the years between 1998 and 2006 writing ANS, when weird novels like House of Leaves, Middlesex, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time were still on the tips of the literati’s tongues) but who, at 41 this year, was not defined by 9/11 but rather witnessed it as the horrific apex to a lifetime marked by Vietnam and Chernobyl—seems to be the best modern example of a potential whip-smart yet breezy medium. ANS certainly belongs in the echelon of heady tomes that can still challenge the limits of what fiction can do, but at its core exists the beautifully simple thread of a heist; its plotting, its execution, and its aftermath rival most Hollywood crime dramas in elegance—not to mention surely eclipsing them in sheer idea-power. The three most magnificent tirades (the first being DeLeon’s eleven-page expulsion of information; the second being the entirety of Chapter 10; and the third being the beautiful allegorical fairy-tale Casi reads to Mary) are not only crisply fluid, but also laden with philosophical and moral implications. The novel consistently stands in stark contrast to books like Douglas Coupland’s jPod or Wallace’s Jest that seem unconcerned with traditional ideas of plot.

Or compare it to another book being read in hordes this summer: I plunged into A Naked Singularity early so as to be able to take part in both Conversational Reading’s Big Read and the group read of J R hosted by the Los Angeles Review of Books. My experience with J R, however, was short-lived as I found myself severely frustrated shortly after beginning. Lee Konstantinou, who is leading the read, remarked that contrary to the Dalkey Press edition’s foreword, the novel was indeed a challenge, although pointing out that it wasn’t any more difficult than, say, Infinite Jest. I had to disagree: I found it far more of a challenge than Jest, or Gravity’s Rainbow, or tedium-based American Psycho, or even certain parts of 2666. Gaddis is clearly a master at dialogue, which makes for a fresh read (I can’t think of another novel taking place almost entirely within dialogue), but without rest-stops, chapters, defined waypoints to latch onto—without epigraphs to guide us—it’s an incredibly intimidating one as well. Not that that doesn’t seem to be part of its genius: an early passage remarks on the inability of fabricated structure to properly impose order on the universe’s inherent chaos, a theme I come upon frequently in my own work, as well as one that arises several times in ANS, and one which J R seems to exemplify. (This, of course, is only one of many thematic parallels. And there are most certainly times when De La Pava reaches similar levels of dialogic mastery.) But whereas Gaddis’s attempt at such an experimental tour-de-force can be off-putting, De La Pava handles a much-needed compromise—between deadly serious, highly original fiction, and compelling yet rewarding page-turners—so deftly that I’d argue it’s A Naked Singularity that should take its place—or at the very least its side—at the throne of tomes.

However, like Detective Arroyano’s sudden appearance—one which sent shudders down my spine and showed me just how much I wanted Casi to “get away with it”—the primary plotline is but a red herring. Across the novel lays the translucent veil of metafiction: A Naked Singularity is, for much of its 678 pages, the story of De La Pava’s attempt to write it. “Nothing else matters to me the way this thing I’m writing does,” says Casi as the Kingg case comes to a head. “Let’s just save this kid that’s all. Save the kid.” De La Pava’s urgency in his attempts to destroy our previously-held moral sensibilities comes through with the same ferocious gusto the novel’s prosecutors have for incarceration: De La Pava reads us our Miranda rights in the opening pages as he slaps the handcuffs upon his reader (for, really, few novels manage to arrest me so immediately and with such intensity) before leading us across step after legal step toward our eventual end: Death Row. In De La Pava’s world, the reader is King(g). It is our salvation with which he is ultimately concerned.

And yes, A Naked Singularity is very focused on our definition of justice; De La Pava forced me time and again to confront exactly how far I was willing to go toward opposite ends of the spectrums, from total condemnation of Dane’s evil genius (to borrow a term from one of Casi’s heroes, Descartes) who draws Casi into the heist with arguments afoul with the stench of grandiosity—and worse, grandiosity that bases itself upon Ouroborian logic—to the overwhelming desire to forgive Jalen Kingg, whose misdeeds were thrust in my face with his Guard’s “Anti-Sympathy Packet.” I, despite myself and despite the Packet, wept briefly upon reading the final letter in the series of correspondences between Casi and Kingg (which recalled the similarly tear-jerking set of letters in Mark L. Danielewski’s aforementioned pomo-masterpiece, House of Leaves).

But just as the plot of the novel is essentially moved forward by Dane’s desperate wish to craft an act so perfect it both exists wholly outside of himself as well as causes him to exist outside of everything else—Casi often feels like a prisoner of his surroundings, as did I by the time Part One came to a close when I too felt in “a hurry to feel a sense of accomplishment, of forward momentum, … that a discrete, meaningful segment is behind me”—so does the creation of the novel feel compelled forth by De La Pava’s wish to violently infiltrate his reader’s psyche, and do so better than the strongmen who have come before him. (It was telling, but not quite surprising, that De La Pava named Moby Dick and Crime and Punishment as favorites.) In attempting destroy any illusion we might have previously held about the “justice” our justice system provides us and to force us to demand of ourselves and our society what “justice” really means in the age of Television, De La Pava ends up pointing the reader toward questions in an entire other dimension: what is the place of genius, and what do we do when we realize that, however talented we may be, we are nowhere close to that unattainable level of perfection?

As a writer, I focused primarily on this attempt to create perfection during my read, with specific regards to art, to argument, and to conviction (in all senses of the word). The intricate heist-plotting akin to the nuance required to elicit the right emotion from one’s reader, the fervency with which Casi eventually comes at the Kingg problem, Dane’s obsession, the meticulously-placed typos: it felt possible to see De La Pava at work on the story, coming to terms at every corner with whether or not he was—or was even capable of—accomplishing what he had set out to do. The whole concept is universal even for those who won’t be the next “Kepler, Newton, Galileo,” or who aren’t Ludwig van, Johannes Sebastian, or Fyodor. If we draw meaning from that at which we are talented, then how do we cope with not being the Wilfred Benitez of our field? Would it even be worth it, when these masters meet nothing but an unglamorous end? And despite all of this, are we, as able beings, responsible for trying anyway? Chapter 29′s epigraph stood out as the most crucial, especially as the reality of the novel quickly unspooled: “Quid rides? Mutato nomine de te fibula narrator?” Who are we—the readers—to judge; and yet, if we don’t judge, who will?

Part of the reason I am so enamored with the novel despite its flaws is because of its desire to be such an object of Greatness. We are all aware of the finitude of our lifetimes, and the corresponding limitation on how many novels we can consume over that period. In a utopian literary landscape, there would be but one encyclopedic story which would be both compellingly addictive and completely comprehensive: it would be the only story we would ever need to read to glean everything we could from a piece of literature. But culture is so fractured, so divided into infinite subcultures, each with its own preconceptions toward and potential reactions to art: no one novel could possibly do it all. (I, for example, found a special tie with Casi’s cast of Colombian family members, whose interactions reminded me of childhood gatherings spent with my own South American relatives; but I couldn’t expect others to comprehend the nuances, or connect with them as deeply as I did.) So, in lieu of this perfect piece of Entertainment (to borrow from Wallace once more), it seems the challenge to young writers entering a field being overhauled—by Kindle singles, by tales Tweeted, by multimedia iPad-based books—is not to downsize, but to swell: to prove that their novel is the one that can cover as many bases as possible for its specific readership.

Now that the Naked Singularity Big Read is concluded, we’re running short responses to the book by Big Read participants. Here’s Kevin Ryan Nava discussing A Naked Singularity an as an experience of its being written.

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

A Naked Singularity, like its Big Read siblings, is one of these novels. The only heist more impressive and calculated than the one that transpires in the events of ANS is the one De La Pava commits: he has tried to steal us,in our entireties, and done so right in front of our eyes. By consistently provoking and engaging us with regards to everything under the sun, from sex to religion, to self-help and love, to ego and fame and guilt, to age and family and duty and race and class and addiction and physics, De La Pava argues that, yes, there is still room in this century for this sort of fiction, and that, yes, it can do what it sets out to achieve. John Jeremiah Sullivan said famously of David Foster Wallace (whose influence, as has been noted, bleeds brightly through the novel): “Someone had come along with an intellect potentially strong enough to mirror the spectacle [of being alive at the end of the twentieth century] and a moral seriousness deep enough to want to in the first place. About none of his contemporaries—even those who in terms of ability could compete with him—can one say that they risked as great a failure as Wallace did.” Now on my second read of the novel, I am still undecided as to whether De La Pava succeeded, whether he pulled off his heist, at his hijacking of our consciousnesses. Although I’m holding out until I read his sophomore effort, Personae, and whatever might come next (imagine what De La Pava could do with Internet), it seems like the answer echoes that of our protagonist’s accidental name:


For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

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  2. Naked Singularity Big Read: Conclusions For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here. This is the last post in the Naked Singularity Big Read, as per...
  3. Naked Singularity Big Read: About that Title For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here. Hello everybody and welcome to our summer Big Read: A Naked Singularity by...
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1 comment to Naked Singularity Big Read: The Experience of Reading ANS

  • Gilly

    This is a wonderful appraisal which sums up so much of what I felt about the book. The discussions over the last few weeks have shown me flaws but have taken nothing away from my affection and admiration. Possibly they have increased them. On my first reading last year I didn’t really grasp the ending, and did feel a bit let down by it, but the successive reading and rereadings now make me think it works really well. Lately there have been many articles that have caught my eye about the end of the universe, from its heat death to being ripped apart by singularities of various kinds or dark matter. These don’t have to be understood or explained in a physicist’s manner. They have become part of the cultural background of our society, maybe replacing an almighty god, but just as unknowable and unpredictable. Tom (the amateur reader) pointed out that each part of ANS ends with the word “stars”. We live our lives in the midst of a cataclysm of the birth and death of stars. Ballena struck me as an embodiment of dark matter that lurks throughout our universe and will ultimately destroy everything. The singularity that is our own death could occur at any moment. De la Pava succeeds brilliantly for me in writing a novel which balances the knowledge of our insignificance in the face of cosmic reality with the need for compassion and justice in these little lives of ours. I liked the experience of having my mind twisted and altered, and the richness, readability and hilarity of the novel are very impressive.

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