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 […]

New Book: The Secret History of Science Fiction

The Secret History of Science Fiction includes an early story by DeLillo, and that’s just the beginning. Ed Park in the LA Times:

“Ratner’s Star” is mentioned by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel in the introduction to their new anthology, “The Secret History of Science Fiction” (Tachyon: 382 pp., $14.95). Engaging with Jonathan Lethem’s 1998 Village Voice article “Close Encounters: The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction,” in which Lethem imagined a world in which Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” won SF’s Hugo Award in 1973, the editors contend that the distinction between science fiction and mainstream (or mainstream literary) fiction has grown fuzzier over the last decade and, indeed, has always been sort of fuzzy. (I think that’s what they’re saying.)

I’m mildly interested in this sort of debate, and I was going to talk about “The Secret History of Science Fiction,” which is brimming with aces — from Margaret Atwood’s strange “Homelanding” to George Saunders’ chilling lab report “93990″ to Carter Scholz’s antic, deeper-than-it-looks “The Nine Billion Names of God” — and maybe also to laud the altogether winning tone of Lethem’s “Chronic City” (stoner science-fiction-as-magical-realism?) as a new path in the genre battle. … But all I really want to do, at the moment, is embrace the unsuspecting editors in a massive, spine-crunching bear hug for including DeLillo’s story “Human Moments in World War III,” which first appeared in Esquire in 1983, and which I’d never read before. . . .

“Human Moments in World War III” is not just vintage DeLillo (appearing in between 1982′s “The Names” and 1985′s “White Noise,” by any sane estimate two of the great novels of the 1980s), but a potent encapsulation of his powers. The nameless narrator and his partner, Vollmer, are in orbit high above the Earth, where some large but ill-defined war rages. The astronauts are seated back to back when manning the firing panel, “to keep us from seeing each other’s face.”

Their mission is to inspect “unmanned and possibly hostile satellites.” The vantage understandably “puts men into a philosophical temper,” but Vollmer is starting to get on the narrator’s nerves. “Vollmer has never said a stupid thing in my presence,” he notes. “It is just his voice is stupid, a grave and naked bass, a voice without inflection or breath.” The spaceship rapidly becomes an echo chamber, a place of doubt where “the only danger is conversation.” The scenario is at once mundane and out of this world.

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  2. Newspaper Science Coverage in Decline Could someone remind me what it is that newspapers still cover these days? NYT blogger Andrew C. Revkin: Of course, the situation at CNN is...
  3. On the Coming of Science Fiction’s Time via Atwood and Ballard Interesting synchronicity in the literary pages last week. First, from Jonathan Lethem’s review of JG Ballard’s complete short stories: Ballard was, unmistakably, a literary futurist,...
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2 comments to New Book: The Secret History of Science Fiction

  • Jacob Silverman

    I don’t have my copy handy, but I’m pretty sure that DeLillo story also appeared in this collection of Esquire fiction, which has a pretty good spread of stories. This new anthology does looking interesting though.

  • Yeah, I second that. It was in there. That Esquire antho has a number of fascinating, hard-to-find stories in it, like Bourjaily’s “Amish Farmer” and Elliott’s “Among the Dangs.” Back in the day I dug up that DeLillo story and another Esquire piece, “In the Men’s Room of the Sixteenth Century,” but I was never quite as enthusiastic about them as Mr. Park seems to be.

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