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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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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 Exodus Is Upon Us

In the LARB, interesting review of Lars Iyer’s trilogy, which has just seen the publication of its final volume, Exodus. What strikes me about this quote from the review is how all the reference points for Iyer’s voice are philosophers/theorists:

Spurious also introduces the singular construction of Iyer’s books. Lars is the narrator, but his speech mostly consists in reporting what W. has said, and how W. has insulted him. Frequently the voices blur together. In this, Iyer’s writing recalls an alternative lineage, of stylistic experimentation in the history of philosophy: Nietzsche’s neobiblical fables, Kierkegaard’s split personas and alter-ego arguments, Blanchot’s fictions and blending into other writers. These are all innovations towards nonliterary ends, towards producing rather than transmitting thought, and putting into practice specific intellectual projects. And although Iyer parodies the grandiosity of such figures, in a small way he is part of their tribe.

This seems to say something important about the direction creative writing has been moving of the past couple of decades, as well as what kinds of literary voices seem most suited to describing our experience of the world, and where these voices emerged from.

Though, for all that I agree with here, I think that this sentence misses the point of what Iyer is up to: “And although Iyer parodies the grandiosity of such figures, in a small way he is part of their tribe.” Contra David Morris’ very smart review, parodying these figures is a way of declaring his allegiance to their tribe, just as it is for Enrique Vila-Matas.

Here are reviews of Iyer’s first two book in The Quarterly Conversation: Spurious and Dogma.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Flat References or Round References? Here, Lars Iyer, talking about his new book Spurious (and you should see the review in TQC, written by, literally, a PILE OF SHIT) says...
  2. Not the End of Literature Lars Iyer, author of the very well-received novel/memoir/blog extension Spurious has written a very interesting essay that I cannot agree with but nonetheless encourage everyone...
  3. This Business of the Novel Being Over Daniel Mendelsohn, creator of straw men: I don’t know how people can still buy into this ridiculous, antiquated notion that the only really “literary” activity...
  4. Life Big Read: Question Thread So I want to try something new here. Each week I’ll post a question thread, and then we all can post any questions at all...
  5. Gertrude Stein’s iPhone If you don’t ever manage to read The Making of Americans, you can at least read this. There are many kinds of squares and many...

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3 comments to The Exodus Is Upon Us

  • SirJack

    Iyer’s much-hyped novels seem pretty underwhelming to me. I think that because of Iyer’s admittedly very cool manifesto and other such pronouncements on his blog (together with his academic credentials), these collections of witty conversations receive more earnest theorizing and critical attention than they might deserve.

    I was thinking about how Iyer seeks to be “nonliterary.” It’s interesting how literary writers so often want to be nonliterary. But “nonliterary” usually translates to, More Literary. The idea of being nonliterary is supposed to announce your forthrightness and adherence to the “truth” of the “current situation.”

    Being “nonliterary” can also mean: to reach out to include more of existence, stuff typically considered out of bounds, perhaps. Or, to apply new ideologies to writing that are not perceived to fit prevailing literary modes. Or, to undermine literary tradition and present your book as being beyond literature, the next step. Or to write simple, direct sentences.

    Either way, when a book is commended as being nonliterary (and, as in the case with this LARoB review, it’s *only* the most literary outfits that make such pronouncements, and it’s *always* considered a deep compliment) expect something that’s actually very “literary.” War and Peace was at one time seen as nonliterary, and we all know how that turned out.

  • Sir Jack, the review refers to the “nonliterary”. Does Iyer say anywhere that he seeks to be so?

    Also, Exodus alone refers to Jandek, Holderlin, Philip K Dick, damp, the sacking of Jerusalem, the country of Canada and friendship among cows.

  • SirJack

    In his manifesto, Iyer’s first helpful pointer is “use an unliterary plainness,” and he then states that Bolano’s Savage Detectives was “notably unliterary,” which LOL.

    Concerning your second point, the fact that a literary work refers to Big Names and other amusing things does not make it inherently worthwhile or worth analyzing.

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