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

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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.

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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.


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    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 […]

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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