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.


  • 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 […]

Roth

Been a while since we had a long Philip Roth article.

The construction of his novels is often sloppy. Questions such as point of view (beloved of teachers of creative writing) matter little to him. Take “American Pastoral” (1997). This is one of Mr. Roth’s finest novels; yet technically it is a mess. It begins with the main character, the Swede, presented to us from the outside—by Zuckerman, first as he seemed when he was his boyhood athletic hero and then as a rather dull businessman in late middle age. Next, at a class reunion, the Swede’s brother tells Zuckerman at impossible length of how this dull life has been broken in half by the Weather Underground-like terrorist activities of a beloved teenage daughter. The rest of the novel is backtracking to show us how this happened and what the consequences were. Zuckerman enters the Swede’s mind, explaining this narrative leap with what sounds like a throwaway line—”Anything more I wanted to know, I’d have to make up.” It shouldn’t work, but it does. Mr. Roth’s certainty that what he is saying is important pulls the reader with him, even through a long digression on the state of the Swede’s glove-manufacturing business.

Mr. Roth’s indifference to structure likely concerns critics like myself much more than readers. His tone of voice can be so persuasive, even enchanting, his reflections so interesting, his ability to present the complexities of all that “human stuff” so revealing, that readers gallop along caring nothing for the shape of the book. Nevertheless, it is also true that the opening chapters of many of his novels are better than what follows. The first 100 pages of “The Plot Against America” (2004), for instance, are a brilliant account of a trip to Washington, D.C., in the 1930s. The wonder and excitement of visiting the nation’s capital, a realization for the narrator’s family of the American Dream, are painfully disturbed by overt anti-Semitism. But then the novel drifts beyond what is credible and even into silliness. The impetus that gave such authority to the first part has exhausted itself.

The best novelists find a means of compensating for what they don’t actually do very well. They make a virtue of their deficiencies. Because Mr. Roth is not very good at presenting things dramatically, he tends to dodge the obligatory crescendos.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Philip Roth To Retire? This appears genuine: In an interview with a French publication called Les inRocks last month — which does not appear to have been reported...
  2. Two New Roth Novels Philip Roth's forthcoming novel(la), The Humbling, has been a known quantity for a while now, but The Guardian is reporting that there's another one coming...
  3. Resignation Over Philip Roth As you've probably heard, "Super" Booker judge Carmen Callil resigned from the three-person jury after the latest of the Super Bookers went to Philip Roth....
  4. The Letters of Joseph Roth Boston Review: The Zweig-Roth correspondence dominates Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters. Zweig was one of the most famous men of letters of his era,...
  5. More Nobel The Literary Saloon has indicated that the Nobel will be announced this Thursday, the 9th. They also have odds on the most likely candidates. Here...

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