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

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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.


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  • Noir and Nihilism in True Detective December 15, 2014
    "It’s just one story. The oldest. . . . Light versus dark." Spanning 8 episodes between January and March of 2014, HBO’s runaway hit True Detective challenged the status quo of contemporary crime drama. The show has been widely celebrated for its philosophy, complexity, and visual aesthetic. Co-starring actors Matthew McConaughey as Rustin "Ru […]
  • The Colonel’s World December 15, 2014
    Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born 1940) is considered by many the living Iranian novelist, a perennial Nobel Prize candidate. Dowlatabadi wrote The Colonel some thirty years ago, because in his own words he had been “afflicted.” The subject forced him to sit at the desk and write nonstop for two years. “Writing The Colonel I felt a strong sense of indignation and pa […]
  • Mr Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn by Alessandro Baricco December 15, 2014
    Alessandro Baricco’s well-crafted, elegant prose seems as though it should create the impression of distance, or of abstraction; instead, the reader of Mr. Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn becomes wholly implicated and immersed, drawn into a dreamy and idiosyncratic world that blurs the division between reader, character and writer. As readers, we expect that th […]
  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash December 15, 2014
    "The paan shop leads to the opening of a tunnel, full of the creatures of the city, and the tears and spit of a fakir." In a single opening line, Uday Prakash sets the scene for the politically incisive, yet intimately human stories of The Walls of Delhi (translated brilliantly from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum). Lest the fakir suggest otherwise, t […]
  • The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation December 15, 2014
    In a speech reprinted in the book, Heim makes a self-deprecating joke about whether the life of a translator is worth reading: “What does a translator do? He sits and translates!” The Man Between serves as a book-length retort by laying bare all the things Heim did: these include persuading the academy that translation is a scholarly (in addition to a creati […]
  • The Prabda Yoon Interview December 15, 2014
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  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck December 15, 2014
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  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
    Once, at a writers symposium, William Howard Gass remarked that to substitute the page for the world is a form of revenge for the recognition that "you are, in terms of the so-called world, an impotent nobody." There is inarguably no contemporary writer of American stock in whose work one might locate a more ambitious war of attrition between innov […]
  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
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The Last Samurai: Charles-Valentin Alkan

I just finished up with The Last Samurai today, and I was tickled to see the composer Charles-Valentin Alkan make an appearance toward the end. While I’d disagree that Alkan is quite as obscure as DeWitt makes him out to be (or maybe his reputation has grown in the 10 years since TLS was published), it’s very true that he gets nowhere near the acclaim of his more celebrated contemporaries (e.g., Chopin) even though he did compose some remarkable music.

If you’d like to listen for yourself, the pianist Marc-André Hamelin (not sure if this was one of the five DeWitt claims actually still plan Alkan) has done a bunch of fine recordings of Aklan’s music. I like the pieces collected on the Symphony for Solo Piano disc (though the cover art seems a little geeky to me).

Of course, the appearance of Alkan makes one final entry in the “obscurity vs genius” theme that runs the length of the entire book, and how fitting that Ludo manages to discover his “father” by recognizing a neglected genius playing the work of another neglected genius. One imagines that the cultural knowledge necessary for Ludo to recognize Alkan and thus find his “father”–in conjunction with the social skills needed to maneuver said “father” into accepting his overture–indicate that he has finally started down the road toward developing a cultural literacy to match his prodigious literary literacy.

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2 comments to The Last Samurai: Charles-Valentin Alkan

  • David C

    I wonder what others here think about Sibylla’s job. It seems so mind-numbing particularly for someone of her intelligence. Moreover, it reminds me of war-time field intelligence filing (not that I have any experience). Just copying down whatever comes across one’s desk and putting it into an outrageously huge pile that serves no purpose other than to physically grow. Is this her alternative for suicide?

  • tom

    @ DAVID C

    I wonder if you’re someone who follows the World Series. The ratings are down drastically, for reasons I cannot understand, except perhaps because these two teams are not as well known as the Yankees and the Phillies. I predicted on a family blog that Colby Lewis, at age 31, would do a good job against the Giants. He spent time in Japan with his family, playing for a team from Hiroshima. Baseball players don’t write long posts like me, but one senses from his loconic answers that the experience was soul-forming.

    Do you realise to what incredible extent your question dynamites the entire novel? This question is not born of anger, but of surprise. Imagining Sib setting out to find a more satisfying job is to begin writing an altogether different novel. You may say: why not, and I’d agree. Except that I am sure that this one deserves to stand, and to be read on its own terms.

    I’d love to meet up with you in Paris. If that could happen, I’d put a copy of The Last Samurai in my satchel, and take you to the public garden around the Rodin museum. It’s a wonderful place for people who suffer from the heat, neat a place to rest their weary bones, and for some, to meditate on the achievements of Auguste Rodin. And of course I’d start reading to you. I’d read the passages where Sib, way back when, talks about Rilke being Rodin’s secretary. I think that, to keep reading this novel, you have to feel at that point some kind of empathy with Sib who obviously feels that Rilke’s position as secretary was quite enviable. And that he would do just about anything to remain in proximity with this “genius” of modern sculpture. Of course he would moonlight on his own work, especially on the notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. (There may be chronological problems imagining Rilke working on the notebooks while “serving” Rodin. That’s secondary to the fact that a samurai is someone who serves.)

    So that’s what I think of Sib’s job. She takes it because she’s taken up in the Samurai work ethic. It’s not the Protestant one. It’s a scheme to save her skin, and bring her son to the point where he’ll be able to parry blows all by himself. It’s something temporary, fleeting, not at all what she might have preferred, but this is brass tacks or destiny! Here too I think the reader needs a political muscle of imagination to conceive of something other than the standard leveling process of today’s educational institutions in order to keep clicking with Sibylla. Most of us belong to the category of the two farmer’s voices who respond to Rikichi with expressions of ghastly disbelief and confessions of allegiance to impossibility: there is nothing to be done.

    From the very beginning of this reading group, I’m the silly man who believes that Sibylla is to be trusted. That her intuition was spot on, and her devotion intermittent. Her chances of success at matter of statistics. But to live and work next to Rodin, who could possibly imagine something luckier or better or more solid than that?

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