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

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


  • A Legacy by Sybille Bedford March 15, 2015
    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
    The Fall of Language in the Age of English stirred up debate upon its publication in Japan in 2008, and it’s possible it will do so in the U.S. with its arrival in Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter's translation. In their introduction, Yoshihara and Winters Carpenter, point out that Japanese reviewers accused Mizumura of being a jingoist, an e […]
  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
    Another View demonstrates exciting potential in translation study and praxis. It is especially significant in deconstructing assumptions about fluency and linguistic identity. The author makes some persuasive arguments for considering and even preferring non-native translation of texts, the most controversial of which is the possibility that linguistic compe […]
  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
    Despite South Korea having the kind of vibrant literary scene you'd expect from a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we're still not exactly inundated with English translations of South Korean fiction. Given this dearth, Dalkey Archive Press's Library of Korean Literature series, twenty five titles published in collab […]
  • 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
    The idea was to uncover the secret life of these texts, why do their creators consider them their best work? What’s the clandestine, the underground, the surreptitious meaning or attachment? Where’s the kernel, the seed from which a body of work grew, what the driving obsession? Is it something sentimental, something technical, maybe even something spiritual […]
  • 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 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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  1. The Last Samurai: A Good Samurai Will Parry the Blow I was out of action for half of last week, but I'm hoping to finish up The Last Samurai today and get together some concluding...
  2. The Last Samurai References and Annotations Thread: Week 3 Last Samurai-ers--you know what to do. And here's a thought that occurred to me from last week's section. . . . continue reading, and add...
  3. The Last Samurai: The Burden of Genius For instance, the section starts out with the piano-playing dreams of the narrator's mother (and I like how each of our sections has begun by...
  4. The Last Samurai: Cultural Literacy and Other Grown-Up Things Now that we're into the meat of this book, I think it's time to talk about a theme I've been tracking for a while and...
  5. The Last Samurai: Fathers and Reasons I've been thinking a lot about the story of Hugh Carey this week, which comprises roughly the last half of this week's reading. I like...

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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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