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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You Say

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

Shop though these links = Support this site


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.


  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić September 15, 2014
    As Drndić reiterates throughout the novel, “Behind every name there is a story.” And Haya Tedeschi’s story is draped in death. Born to a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism and tacitly supported the Fascists in Italy, Haya was a bystander to the Holocaust. She attended movies while Jews and partisans were transported to concentration camps; she pored […]
  • The Tree With No Name by Drago Jančar September 15, 2014
    At the opening of chapter 87—the first chapter found in The Tree with No Name—Janez Lipnik finds himself up a tree, shoeless, and lost in the Slovenian countryside. He makes his way to a house where he is taken in by a woman teacher who is waiting for her lover, a soldier. It becomes clear we are at the height of World War II. Soon after, we follow Lipnik […]
  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
    Here, at the midpoint of his narrative, Bernhard, the affectless and purposeless protagonist of "The Unseen," experiences existential near-emancipation at dusk. This retreat toward obscurity in terse, direct language—thematic and stylistic markers of each work in the collection—comes immediately after Bernhard’s sister mentions her plans to enterta […]
  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
    In his new book of essays, Berlin Now, Peter Schneider reveals himself as a gnarled Cold Warrior who has been stricken with many of the maladies common to his generation. With the specter of Communism exorcized, his new enemy is Islam. The book is a collection of short interlocking pieces introducing Anglophone readers to Berlin; it is not being published in […]
  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
    “It seemed that the [New Yorker] story—which was in part the result of my dealing with the reception of my novel—had been much more widely received than the novel itself,” says the narrator of Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04. Perhaps this narrator is Lerner himself—at one point he describes 10:04, within its own pages, as “neither fiction nor nonfiction but […]
  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting is a masterful work structured around Robert Smithson’s earthwork “The Spiral Jetty.” Olsen’s novel is comprised of three narrations, written each by a separate member of a family. The husband’s and wife’s texts progress in opposite directions across the book, with each page divided among these two inverted texts; though […]
  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
    In The Ants, we receive a study of existence through ants. That is, there are ants everywhere, ants substituted in every segment of the landscape, yet their behavior seems to reveal something altogether human. Too human. The ants are crushed and disappointed. They are warm and many. They are involved in gang wars and live inside carrot cake. The unique quali […]

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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