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.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:


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 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 […]

The Art of Political Murder

This year, many U.S. readers became familiar with a new voice from Latin America–Horacio Castellanos Moya, whose novel Senselessness was published by New Directions in an excellent translation. (And has since been nominated for the Best Translated Book of 2008.) The novel is narrated by an obsessive, paranoid writer whose improbable job it is to edit a 1,400-page report documenting atrocities that occurred during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. (About 1/4 of the report is simply a listing of the names of innocents murdered.)

Like many, upon first encountering Senselessness I took this report as the product of Moya’s twisted imagination, but it is in fact quite real. The report, entitled Guatemala: Never Again, was published in 1998 and there’s even a shortened trade version of it available for purchase.

Two days after the report was published, Guatemalan Archbishop Juan Gerardi, who was the force behind the production and publication of the report, was assassinated in Guatemala City. From the get-go the murder was highly suspicious, and Francisco Goldman’s journalistic book The Art of Political Murder lays out the years-long effort to prove that the Guatemalan Army was in fact behind the murder and punish those involved.

Goldman is best known as the author of three previous novels set in Central America. (I’d say that he’s the U.S.’s best fictional chronicler of that region.) Although he has published his journalism widely, this is his first book-length non-fiction work. He’s done a good job here, as The Art of Political Murder is deftly plotted, well-characterized, and meticulously researched.

Part of what leads to the psychological breakdown of Senselessness’s narrator is the uncanny quality of the testimony of Guatemala’s native peoples, which he reads while proofing the report. Most of the testifiers are native speakers of a Mayan language, and their Spanish is spotty. But rather than diminish the intensity of their speech, the narrator finds that this gives their testimony a poetic quality that makes it all the more powerful.

The Art of Political Murder includes a few passages from the report, and I was surprised to find that it corresponds very closely to the language reproduced in Senselessness.

For those who enjoyed Senselessness, or simply for those interested in finding out about the fallout from one of the most disastrous U.S.-sponsored wars in Latin America, The Art of Political Murder is highly recommended.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. On Transgressive Art In Ope nLetters, John Cotter on learning to understand ugly art: And the next thing I saw was a Paul Klee. It was no Twittering...
  2. Art Since 1900 Hell freezes: The Wall Street Journal’s opinion page and The Nation are in agreement. What is the opinion that brings about this historic detante? Art...
  3. Horacio Castellanos Moya Fun I will now present to you many links regarding Horacio Castellanos Moya, whom you will all remember as the Salvadoran author of the recently translated...
  4. Norwegian Wood Art Usually, discussions of art in Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood center around all the pop songs woven into the plot (starting the the Beatles song that...
  5. Murders in Ciudad Juarez–Art and Video If you know one thing about 2666, it’s probably that the plot circles around the murders of hundreds of women that have occurred in Ciudad...

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