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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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

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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.


  • 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 The Greatness of John Hawkes

I've long suspected that John Hawkes was a superb author, and now I've confirmed it by reading his novel Second Skin. I'm hoping to eventually do a post going into what I think makes this book so good, but I don't have the time right now.

Fortunately, Jim Shepard's appreciation of Hawkes from the book Mentors, Muses & Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives has just been exerpted at The Rumpus. (And be sure to check the comments thread for an odd, somewhat spazzy comment by Rick Moody.)

These observations of Hawkes as a workshop leader seem very much in keeping with my experience of reading his Second Skin:

As our teacher, Jack modeled for us so many things. He reminded us of the ways in which fiction so often was willing to confront ugliness in the service of its opposite. He taught us to value obsessive focus. He insisted that when writing we not forget our allegiance to the body. He demanded we stay willing to be educated about our emotions.

But most of all, he taught us to leap at the astonishingly idiosyncratic wherever it appeared in our work. To value the expressive potential of the unexpectedly strange.

Celebrating such stories as they came across his desk, Jack exulted in the excess, the unruliness, the energy that resulted in our having turned ourselves over to our intuition. What he was teaching me, when he taught me always to look for the strangeness and to value the weird, was to understand that those moments that I hadn’t fully planned were reliably the ones in which I electrified my inert little narrative, and most likely, most fully revealed myself. Or at least: revealed what was potentially my most interesting self.

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  1. I’m Not Sure Why John Hawkes Is Postmodern But he’s certainly an incredible talent. I first encountered Hawkes’ writing via the criticism of William H. Gass (in A Temple of Texts), who...
  2. Read John Wyndham! The Penguin Blog offers an impassioned plea to readers to give the postapocalyptic Brit John Wyndham a shot. I’m not familiar with Wyndham, who wrote...
  3. Reading Resolutions 2009: John Lingan (John Lingan is a frequent contributor to The Quarterly Conversation. In the Winter issue, he reconsidered William Gaddis’s novels The Recognitions and J R through...
  4. John Freeman´s Experiments John Freeman reviewing Only Revolutions: The stunning lack of experimentation in American fiction during the past two decades partly explains why [Mark Z. Danielewski´s] 2000...
  5. John Cowper Powys John Cowper Powys gets an essay in the latest Guardian Review. Words poured from him, and he was famous for never rereading any of them....

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7 comments to On The Greatness of John Hawkes

  • Scott, I really am looking forward to your essay on Hawkes. He absolutely knocked me out too when I first read “Blood Oranges” so long ago (way back in the late 1970′s), and there are also beautiful shorter pieces he wrote for Mark Mirsky’s FICTION,long ago, too. FICTION published alot of his work in the late 1970′s. You might want to check those older issues. Also Donald Barthelme published alot of his stories in FICTION,too. He started it with Mark Mirsky and John Hawkes was such a force back then. Just to say how happy I am he’s getting a long overdue re-look.

  • John (or Jack as it were) Hawkes second novel, The Beetle Leg , obtuse as it is, STILL resonates with me. And I read it over four months ago. I think it was Bill Gass who said about Hawkes, “He is the only writer whose sentences breathe what they see.”

  • I agree with Randy on The Beetle Leg: it’s a very difficult read, but something about it has stuck with me…. and the passage in which the title came into play is simply gorgeous. I’ve tried and failed three times to read his incredibly difficult first novel, Cannibal. I think he gets somewhat easier to read after these first two, but no less interesting.

  • Thanks to you and Randy for the recommendation. The Beetle Leg sounds like a good second book. By the way, I’ve just been informed that Dalkey will be reissuing The Passion Artist in the spring.

  • Thanks for reminding me of Hawkes! I heard him read and answer questions about thirty years ago: he insisted that a novel should come entirely out of one’s head, and claimed he never researched anything. I read The Lime Twig, The Blood Oranges, maybe some others, and was very taken with the spell they cast. (I connect them in my mind with Jose Donoso’s The Obscene Bird of Night, which I remember as a very strange and powerful book.)

  • Just finished the obscure but brilliant ‘The Beetle Leg’: its not so much a surrealistic wester n as magical surrealism.

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