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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.


  • A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

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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