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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.

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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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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.

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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

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Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

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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 […]

On Stereotypes Surrounding French Lit

It’s cool that the LA Times published an overview of some new, untranslated literature coming out of France, but they might have shed some of the stereotypical baggage:

Until the 1980s, more common literary topics were “man and nature, the writer in Montmartre,” said novelist Jean-Pierre Ostende, whose new book about an audit firm, “Et voraces ils couraient dans la nuit” (Voracious, They Ran in the Night), is another example of the shift. “You were not supposed to write about telephone poles or the decorations in an airport.” Instead, French fiction focused on creating literary forms and “literature for literature’s sake” and avoided stories with the so-called nouveau roman (new novel) or honed in on the inner world of the writer.

“It was a little hard to talk about reality,” said Dominique Viart, who teaches at the University of Lille 3. “Literature of the ’60s and ’70s talked about itself,” he said.

But increasingly visible today, “the story is back,” said Viart. “French literature is no longer self-absorbed at all. It talks as much about the problems of Rwanda, globalization, the great questions of society. And not just the little world of Paris and the little world of writers. François Bon was one of the first to write about the world of the worker, and since then it hasn’t stopped.”

As I’ve mentioned before, New Novelists tend to have plenty of “story” in their books. I also disagree with drawing a line between talking about “reality” and talking about yourself. Are you (the writer) not a part of reality too? And, as Enrique Vila-Matas has demonstrated so well, does talking about yourself not bridge over to the rest of the world around you?

Of course, the reality that Vila-Matas discusses isn’t the “reality” as Dominique Viart construes it, which it seems would comprise something vaguely journalistic and highly moralistic. But that only brings me right back to Robbe-Grillet, whose Jealousy is, among other things, very much a postcolonial story. Of course it’s not a dumbly postcolonial story (which, I fear, is the kind that Viart wants to read).

But anyway, for me it all gets to be a little too much at this line:

French literature from Baudelaire to Balzac, Zola and the surrealists has a lofty tradition of focusing on the subject of contemporary society.

That would be the same Baudelaire who attempted to defend himself from charges of obscenity under the argument that his poetry was art for art’s sake, which, yes, the Times article decries about half a page up.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. The Rise of Daily Life in French Lit The new Words Without Borders blog has shot out of the box with their ongoing Perec coverage. The latest piece is an excellent, lengthy interview...
  2. Is French Literature Dead? Nice to know we American's aren't the only ones who can ask trivial questions about the death of things. This time it's an unnamed French...
  3. French Writing Dead? I'm very pleased to see this article in Prospect giving some more recognition to two recent French novels in translation that Ive been praising over...
  4. Nabokov on Beckett's French From a nice essay on Beckett in the Boston Review: This thought coalesced into a conviction. Thereafter, Beckett, who so valued control over his work...
  5. Vila-Matas Website Javier Moreno of Hermano Cerdo points out to me that Enrique Vila-Matas now has a website, all in Spanish, obviously. There’s some useful stuff there,...

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