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.


  • A Legacy by Sybille Bedford March 15, 2015
    Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedfor […]
  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
    Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Gr […]
  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
    New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, wa […]
  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
    This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countr […]
  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
    The Fall of Language in the Age of English stirred up debate upon its publication in Japan in 2008, and it’s possible it will do so in the U.S. with its arrival in Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter's translation. In their introduction, Yoshihara and Winters Carpenter, point out that Japanese reviewers accused Mizumura of being a jingoist, an e […]
  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
    Another View demonstrates exciting potential in translation study and praxis. It is especially significant in deconstructing assumptions about fluency and linguistic identity. The author makes some persuasive arguments for considering and even preferring non-native translation of texts, the most controversial of which is the possibility that linguistic compe […]
  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
    Despite South Korea having the kind of vibrant literary scene you'd expect from a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we're still not exactly inundated with English translations of South Korean fiction. Given this dearth, Dalkey Archive Press's Library of Korean Literature series, twenty five titles published in collab […]
  • B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal by J.C. Hallman March 14, 2015
    here’s a conspicuous history of books that simply should not work: Books like U & I by Nicholson Baker, a book-length exercise in “memory criticism,” where Baker traces Updike’s influence on his own writing life while studiously not actually re-reading any of Updike’s books. Or books like Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer’s book that procrastinates away from […]
  • The Valerie Miles Interview March 14, 2015
    The idea was to uncover the secret life of these texts, why do their creators consider them their best work? What’s the clandestine, the underground, the surreptitious meaning or attachment? Where’s the kernel, the seed from which a body of work grew, what the driving obsession? Is it something sentimental, something technical, maybe even something spiritual […]
  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
    Look up at the sky, or down into the ocean, and what color do you see? We see blue, but not Homer—he never once employs the term throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, famously calling the sea "wine-dark" and the heavens "bronze." Neither did the Greek philosopher Xenophanes say blue—he described the rainbow as having only three colors. Th […]

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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