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 […]

On That Creative Criticism School Thing . . .

At The Valve there's an interesting discussion of J.C. Hallman's essay on launching a school of creative criticism.

Among others, Zak Smith, of Gravity's Rainbow illustration fame, is there in the comments:

If you pick up “The Second Coming” read it and don’t like it, that’s fine. That is an acceptable response to a piece of literature.

If, then, you take a class, learn all about Yeats and meter and symbolism, and then re-read it and then suddenly claim to like it–that’s bad.

That’s posing. That’s like saying you didn’t used to like broccoli but then you took a biology class and a chemistry class and now you know what broccoli is made of and so you like to eat it.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. The Translation Creative Commons I've been discussing retranslation in light of the new edition of The Tin Drum. One issue that comes up is, what do you do if...
  2. Blogs & School? So I’ve noticed something fairly interesting happening lately: Online class websites for high school and college classes have linked to certain posts on Conversational Reading....
  3. Kafkaesque Criticism Writing on Franz Kafka: The Office Writings in The New Republic, Louis Begley makes Kafka criticism sound a little, well, Kafkaesque: Thus was constituted the...
  4. Criticism Great Prospect article. If the below at all sounds lucid to you, do yourself a favor and click on through. (via Lit Saloon) When looking...
  5. Post-Colonial Criticism: Cherry-Picking Evidence? At The Valve they're discussing whether post-colonial criticism "assumes its conclusions even before it begins." The responses so far seem to amount to "yeah, so...

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10 comments to On That Creative Criticism School Thing . . .

  • JPoll

    Interesting thought, but also one that encourages a stifled, circumscribed approach to literature. I read Gravity’s Rainbow as a sophomore in high school; I thought particular scenes and images were great, but the “big picture” eluded me, and consequently I thought the novel over-hyped. I read it again during a graduate school seminar devoted entirely to Pynchon, and this time all the various nuances, allusions and structural pivots became clear(er). I felt, instead of indifference, something akin to awe.
    Learning more about how a piece of literature works is not falsifying the experience. Nor does it negate your initial response. Being satisfied with your first impressions is a good start on the path to hubris.

  • I disagree with Zak on this point, but I think I agree with him on almost all the others he makes in the debate thread Scott links to here. It seems central to the idea of writing about books, or making any kind of art about any other kind of art, that we can reach one another, move one another, persuade one another, and, in the end, grow one another such that our ability to perceive what might be beautiful is expanded. True, it’s not facts that will do this, or contexts, or theories, but those are not the only tools we have — even as “critics.”

  • What really strikes me about a lot of academic criticism is that it sees critical methods as nothing more than tools for unlocking a text. Granted, they’re well aware of the assumptions that lie behind those tools and they can be very passionate about advocating for a methodology that fits their world view, but I do think that this emphasis on seeing method in such a way takes away from the communicative and artistic aspects of criticism.
    Also, might as well say that I think the people who are reading your remarks as a blanket criticism of academic crit are missing the boat.
    And in closing, I thought it was fairly interesting how many academics on the thread over at The Valve tried to invoke “the system” in a sort of quasi-defense of their writing. Obviously that’s a part of the question that can’t be ignored, but it did seem to be a little bit of a doth-protest-too-much kind of situation. Fundamentally, if you are using “the system” as both an explanation and a defense (as many over there seem to be doing), then your argument is incoherent.

  • What the Hell? Is this Zak Smith person nuts? What, so we’re all frozen forever in our first, visceral reactions to everything we read? So if you take the time and make the effort to learn enough to increase your appreciation of what your author was trying to do, you’re ‘posing’? Yeesh. If that were true, I’d love only Superman and Prince Valiant comics and would have no use for Horace, Ariosto, Erasmus, or Shakespeare – or Pynchon either!

  • Yes, there’s been a lot of circular reasoning over on that thread — from people who have, presumably, devoted so much of their lives and careers to that particular vicious cycle that they no longer recognize either the spiral or their own vertigo.
    Ironically, a fairly characteristic strategy for academics — launching ad hominem attacks under the guise of niggling details of history or precision of citation — hit such a fevered pitch that it actually became a pretty good demonstration of the pissing match I described at the beginning of the piece you reprinted. Funny and sad! But without the bittersweet twang of poignancy. Rather, something you’d prefer to simply spit out than swallow.
    Anyway, here’s hoping there’s a conscientious majority listening in silently…

  • I think the people who are reading your remarks as a blanket criticism of academic crit are missing the boat.
    It must have been comments like these that confused us:
    “The essays collected in The Story About the Story assault the institution of literary criticism.”
    “I have a bad habit of arguing with critic types. Theory-based critics, folks who go to scholarly conferences to make friends with peers who will peer-review them through the 120-pages of published material—or whatever the standard is—that they need for the tenure that will ensure that they spend the rest of their lives attending more scholarly conferences.”
    Or maybe these just “niggling details”. Anyway, it has certainly been a lively discussion.

  • Rohan,
    You’re diminishing yourself with this defensive kind of response. Anyone can pull quotes from Hallman’s writing on this topic and paint him as an anti-academic person. Obviously since he is writing in a polemical mode, this is easy to do.
    If you look at the substance of his remarks, he’s clearly not for tossing out the academy with the bathwater. But don’t take my word for it: in the table of contents to his book you’ll see plenty of critics who clearly qualify as academics.

  • I’m amazed how people seem to be going out of their way to take offense at this. I never said:
    “[you should be] satisfied with your first impressions”
    I never said:
    “we’re all [or should be] frozen forever in our first, visceral reactions to everything we read”
    I merely said that “claiming” (falsely–that’s implied) that you like something just because you “understand” the allusions or the context or the devices used is bullshit.
    You have your whole life to re-read a book and change your mind.

  • Cassandra

    Forgive me, but wouldn’t taking such a course broaden one’s capacity for appreciation, or at least help reveal art and beauty and greatness in a text that one might not before have known how to see?

    I used to hate jazz. I thought it was dull and boring and that it all sounded the same. A friend of mine persuaded me to take an introductory course in the genre, and by the end of the few weeks, I had an entirely different perspective: it was as though I learned how to ‘hear’ something I hadn’t been able to prior.

    I agree that claiming you like something because you now (imagine) you understand it is absurd. Still, I think that being introduced to the nuances and intricacies of a work is a different story, and that it’s possible to get a great deal of aesthetic enjoyment as a result of certain forms of education.

    Your example is a good one, though. What kind of existentially-illiterate fool wouldn’t like The Second Coming upon the first read? The poem is soul-wrenching, and its strength comes from the gut, not symbolism and meter. Or so it seems to me.

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