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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 […]

The Eastern Aesthetic

Interesting thoughts on the differences between the rise of the Western novel vs the Eastern, from Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading.

Chinese critics have identified over 600 characters in The Scholars, 800 in The Water Margin and the Jin Ping Mei, 975 in The Story of the Stone. And since size is seldom just size—a story with a thousand characters is not like a story with fifty characters, only twenty times bigger; it’s a different story—all this ends up generating a structure which is very unlike the one we are used to in Europe. . . . Preventing developments: that’s the key. Minimizing narrativity. The Story of the Stone is often described as a Chinese Buddenbrooks, and they are certainly both stories of the decline of a great family, but Buddenbrooks covers a half century in five hundred pages, and Stone a dozen years in two thousand pages: and it’s not just a matter of rhythm, here (although that is obviously the case), but of the hierarchy between synchrony and diachrony: Stone has a “horizontal” dominant, where what really matters is not what lies “ahead” of a given event, as in “forward-looking” European prose, but what lies “to the side” of it: all the vibrations that ripple across this immense narrative system—and all the counter-vibrations that try to keep it stable.

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  1. Buddenbrooks: My Final Thoughts Just to get a little closure on this huge book, I wanted to take a minute and talk about how the whole thing struck me....
  2. This Month, We’ll Be Reading Buddenbrooks Last spring I was completely blown away by Thomas Mann's novel Doctor Faustus. On the spot I vowed to read more Mann, and then didn't...
  3. Buddenbrooks: A Post-War and Peace Novel While we're reading Buddenbrooks, I think it will be useful to consider the book as a sort of work written in the tradition of War...
  4. Buddenbrooks: Why We Care Scott asked a valuable question: Why should we care about these people? He cited the passage on p. 154 regarding Tony's experience with the family...
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4 comments to The Eastern Aesthetic

  • Just a question, does Moretti know Chinese?

  • P.

    Answer to the above: No. Qualification of answer: Moretti’s shtick is that you need not read these texts at all. This is the difference between ‘distant’ and close reading. According to him and his coterie, there are too many texts for them to be read ‘closely.’ Close reading invariably leads to a canon; canons are unrepresentative; therefore, let’s not read. Which is funny, because he’s a pretty good close reader.

  • Patrick Murtha

    The shtick is disposable, trendy and politically correct – but the methodology has many possible uses, and Moretti himself can be most insightful, as he is here. I’m halfway through the second volume of five in the Penguin edition of “The Story of the Stone,” and I see exactly what Moretti means about the “horizontal dominant.” This is the first classic Chinese novel I have read, and despite any idea that knowing ABOUT it is enough, I wouldn’t wish to have missed one of the greatest reading experiences of my lifetime. It has confirmed in me the intention to read ALL the classic Chinese fiction that is available in English. I am pro-canon, pro-expanding the canon, and pro-looking at everything that isn’t in the canon. This of course means that there are “too many” texts for me to read, but what the heck! It keeps me off the streets and out of trouble.

  • I know his big idea is distant reading. My point is, apart from the translated novels, all he has going is the words of Chinese critics, hardly a rigorous basis to start making comparisons between European and Chinese novels.

    But I’m even more curious about this: if The Story of the Stone has 2000 pages and 975 characters, that’s little more than 2 pages per character. How well developed can these characters be? Is characterization even important at all?

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