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

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.


  • [[there.]] by Lance Olsen December 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen is the author of two recent works, [[there.]] and Theories of Forgetting (FC2). The second presents three narratives in a clearly fictional mode while the first offers day-to-day thoughts on living in another country. We rightly suspect that any artist’s memoir or diary ought to be viewed as written with a prospective public in mind, no matter ho […]
  • Noir and Nihilism in True Detective December 15, 2014
    "It’s just one story. The oldest. . . . Light versus dark." Spanning 8 episodes between January and March of 2014, HBO’s runaway hit True Detective challenged the status quo of contemporary crime drama. The show has been widely celebrated for its philosophy, complexity, and visual aesthetic. Co-starring actors Matthew McConaughey as Rustin "Ru […]
  • The Colonel’s World December 15, 2014
    Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born 1940) is considered by many the living Iranian novelist, a perennial Nobel Prize candidate. Dowlatabadi wrote The Colonel some thirty years ago, because in his own words he had been “afflicted.” The subject forced him to sit at the desk and write nonstop for two years. “Writing The Colonel I felt a strong sense of indignation and pa […]
  • Mr Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn by Alessandro Baricco December 15, 2014
    Alessandro Baricco’s well-crafted, elegant prose seems as though it should create the impression of distance, or of abstraction; instead, the reader of Mr. Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn becomes wholly implicated and immersed, drawn into a dreamy and idiosyncratic world that blurs the division between reader, character and writer. As readers, we expect that th […]
  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash December 15, 2014
    "The paan shop leads to the opening of a tunnel, full of the creatures of the city, and the tears and spit of a fakir." In a single opening line, Uday Prakash sets the scene for the politically incisive, yet intimately human stories of The Walls of Delhi (translated brilliantly from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum). Lest the fakir suggest otherwise, t […]
  • The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation December 15, 2014
    In a speech reprinted in the book, Heim makes a self-deprecating joke about whether the life of a translator is worth reading: “What does a translator do? He sits and translates!” The Man Between serves as a book-length retort by laying bare all the things Heim did: these include persuading the academy that translation is a scholarly (in addition to a creati […]
  • The Prabda Yoon Interview December 15, 2014
    Yes, I think people are not comfortable anymore to write in this straightforward, traditional way, especially the younger, more progressive writers. So it’s interesting—you have social commentary, and you also get a little bit of structural experiment. You have themes that are very, very Thai. I’m actually very interested to see what new writers will come up […]
  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck December 15, 2014
    For Jenny Erpenbeck, no life is lived in an indisputable straight line. Which is why, in her new novel (new in English, though published in 2012 as Aller Tage Abend) she approaches the narrative as a series of potential emotional earthquakes, some which take place, some which might have taken place, all of which reveal something of how political turbulence p […]
  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
    Once, at a writers symposium, William Howard Gass remarked that to substitute the page for the world is a form of revenge for the recognition that "you are, in terms of the so-called world, an impotent nobody." There is inarguably no contemporary writer of American stock in whose work one might locate a more ambitious war of attrition between innov […]
  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
    Luiselli’s first novel, Faces in the Crowd, translated into fluid English by Christina MacSweeney, is the perfect illustration of this attitude toward fiction writing. Narrated in short sections spanning multiple storylines and the better part of one hundred years, it uses "[d]eep excavations" to expose the empty spaces in two lives, those of a you […]

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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