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 […]

Now We All Read Balzac

The Believer Logger publishes Peter Brooks’s introduction to NYRB Classics’s new volume of Balzac. This is a really great selection, and they are all new translations. So read it.

Honoré de Balzac is known for immensity, excess, all-night writing sessions in his monk’s robe sustained by countless cups of coffee, producing more than ninety novels and tales in the space of some twenty years. Rodin’s great, looming sculpture suggests a visionary who wanted to capture the whole of French society of his time, and more: the forces that animated it, the principles that made its wheels spin.

It may seem a paradox, then, to link Balzac’s vast Human Comedy to the adjective “short.” We think of Balzac as long, often too long—descriptions, explanations that correspond to the leisure associated with reading nineteenth-century novels, of a length for evenings without television or smartphones. His novels are often freighted with extended presentations of things and people, and weighty excurses on every imaginable subject. He was one of the first generation of writers to make a living from his work, and the need to generate ever more of it—since he was usually in debt—drove his pen. He produced masterpieces nonetheless, though not of the chiseled, perfect sort sought by Flaubert, for instance. Balzac’s claim lies rather in his capacity to invent, to imagine, to create literally hundreds of characters capable of playing out their dramas with convincing power. He stands as the first true realist in his ambition to see society as an organic system. Oscar Wilde came close to the heart of the matter when he declared: “The nineteenth century, as we know it, is largely an invention of Balzac’s.” Balzac “invents” the new century by being the first writer to represent its emerging urban agglomerations, its nascent capitalist dynamics, its rampant cult of the individual personality. By seeing and dramatizing changes that he mainly deplored, he initiated his readers into understanding the shape of the century. “Balzac’s great glory is that he pretended hardest,” declared his faithful disciple Henry James: In the art of make-believe, Balzac was the master. . . .

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Balzac's Eugenie Grandet As I do every month, last Tuesday I led the discussion at the Found in Translation book group at The Booksmith in San Francisco. (If...
  2. What I Want Out of Contemporary Literature Reading Balzac again, I realize (other than that everyone should read Balzac as often as possible) that all I really want out of contemporary literature...
  3. Let's All Go Read The Blind Owl One of the novels excerpted in Tablet & Pen is the novel The Blind Owl (widely described at the greatest Persian novel of the 20th...
  4. Is Organic Good For Consumers or Producers? Organic farming used to be one of those fringe type activities relegated to granola chugging hottubbers in Marin County. Now it’s pretty mainstream–Whole Foods’s...
  5. How and Why You Should Read U.S.A. This is a guest post by Andrew Seal, who is currently a graduate student in American studies at Yale. His writing has previously appeared in...

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