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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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  • Henry: I think the fireworks may come from the fact that these auth
  • Paul: Vanessa Place's 'La Medusa' seems like an American authored
  • Lance: I agree with you about the state of American fiction and I b

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.


  • A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

Nuns of Reading

I don’t exactly think Claire Messud is wrong when she says this, but I think she greatly overstates the case. When Messud was a young girl, it was also the case that the pop culture of the day was much more likely to facilitate conversation among her peers than Jane Eyre; likewise there was plenty of passive entertainment available to draw away time from the “the concentrated leisure, the active effort, of reading and imagining.”

This state of affairs is much more visible now, when you constantly see people pull out their iPhones to play Angry Birds rather than suffer a moment or two of bored contemplation, but I don’t think these devices have done quite as much as people want to believe. True, they’ve offered a way to devote even more time to mediated entertainment than ever before, but the vast majority of our free time was already long since spoken for. The increase is real, but it is tiny.

Reading is a weird, isolating, difficult thing to do. I think it’s wonderful and essential, and I wish everyone agreed with me, but the fact is many people don’t like it as much as you and I do. I’d say this has more to do with the human condition and the form mass culture takes more generally than it does with us all owning iPhones now.

Also, calling people who are devoted to literature “nuns of reading” doesn’t help.

If Philip Roth’s Mickey Sabbath was a “monk of fucking,” Lesser and Mead are nuns of reading. As a fellow sister in the order, I take particular pleasure in their books. But I’m also aware that nuns are an aging population, and converts ever harder to enlist. My daughter, all of twelve and a voracious reader, lives in a world in which iTunes, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter all vie pressingly for her time. Pretty Little Liars stands a better chance than Jane Eyre, and facilitates way more conversation with her peers. In Rebecca Mead’s and my own near-simultaneous youths, “books gave us a way to shape ourselves—to form our thoughts and to signal to each other who we were and who we wanted to be.” It’s not exactly that this is no longer true, but that the balance has shifted, and is ever shifting, away from the concentrated leisure, the active effort, of reading and imagining, toward other, more immediately accessible—and more passive—cultural forms.

Letters, and more painfully, their contents, are already largely gone; other literary species are endangered. The landscape changes inexorably, and we can’t know the future. But Mead and Lesser remind us of what riches we have—an interior world as precious as the external one—and of why we don’t want to lose them.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Always Worth Reading? Dan Green ponders the conventional wisdom that reading is always a good thing, regardless of what you read. I certainly agree with Steve in regarding...
  2. Screen Reading Vs. Book Reading The New Atlantis has a provocative article that comes very close to asserting that screen reading isn’t reading in the traditional sense. The piece starts...
  3. A Bona Fide Capitalist Enterprise Dan nails it: Of course, the whole effort to bring books into the "contexts within which people live" might not be about encouraging reading at...
  4. Ventral and Dorsal Reading Jonah Lehrer in Wired has a very interesting article on the two main parts of the brain used while reading. It turns out that one...
  5. Current Reading I’m currently reading Colson Whitehead’s John Henry Days, a book which I’m gratified to learn is a marked improvement over The Intuitionist. Now it’s time...

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