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

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Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


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    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
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  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
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  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
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  • 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
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  • 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 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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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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