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.


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

“The paradigm of certain disappointments”

When I was in New York last week, I saw Gary Indiana read from his
strange, rebarbative, yet oddly compelling new novel The Shanghai
Gesture
at 192 Books, and in subsequent days I read
through the volume of reviews, essays, and articles that he published
last year, Utopia's Debris. As I read, I found
myself returning again and again to the following collectible line from
its early pages:

Our representations of ourselves are
even more selective and partial than our portraiture of other people.

It comes from an obituary appreciation of
writer Gavin Lambert (1924-2005), and the thought is more than just an
attempt at aphorism: Indiana uses it to begin to describe a type of

peculiarly modern first-person narrator who is not
the principal subject of the narrative, and also the "I" who, like
Proust's Marcel, performs as the author's surrogate, while the question
of whether they are the same person has almost no speculative
importance.

Indiana is writing there of Lambert's
first book, a collection of stories of louche Hollywood types, The Slide Area (1959), but he returns to the
concept in more detail later in the essay, when considering that book
alongside one of Lambert's later novels, The Goodbye
People
(1971). Both books

invite the
close identification of an unnamed "I" with the author but, more
significantly, shift frequently backward and forward in time and
foreground a succession of individuals as the temporary subjects of the
narrative–this portmanteau effect is rarely used in literature, and
even more rarely used effectively. Aside from Proust, whose work
contains multiple structures and whose principal work is a single,
many-chambered novel, the notable examples include Tolstoy's story "The
Forged Coupon," Gide's Caves du Vatican, and
some of Bunuel's late films.

Indiana is modest enough
not to mention his own novels in that mode, the best of which is the
stunning, and sadly neglected, Do Everything in the
Dark
(2003), which I would rank as one of the best novels
of the past decade. As for Lambert, though I knew his name from the
novel Inside Daisy Clover (1966), which was
made into a film starring Natalie Wood and Robert Redford, I'll admit to
having never heard of his other books, for which Indiana makes a
convincing case. Serpent's Tail reprinted The Slide
Area
in 1998–looks like a trip to my local bookstore is in order.

Utopia's
Debris
captures Indiana in all his voices: admiring,
catty, cynical, angry, appreciative, caustic, thoughtful, and–even
when he's wryly piling on viciously well-chosen adjectives–always
fundamentally serious. In the preface, he writes that the pieces in the
book,

in the end, reflect my own tastes, the
seductions to which my own sensibilities have surrendered me, and that
they do not, alas, primarily group themselves under the sign of eros,
but of death. If many of the works and artists examined in these pages
heighten a tonic sense of life, more often they have instilled an acute
and not entirely uncomfortable reminder of my own mortality, the
ephemeral nature of consciousness, and represent something of the
struggle of individuals to wrest from their brief time of existence something of value.

Perhaps more
important, Indiana's essays, like his novels, pulse with empathy; the
following lines from a piece about artist Barbara Kruger could serve as
a pithy summation of Do Everything in the
Dark
:

This is the subtext: The conviction
that empathy can, in fact, change the world–a little at a time, and
not always, and you will only improve things a little bit, anyway, but
if you don't even try, the incurably ugly side of human nature has
already won the war inside us all.

Do
Everything in the Dark
is out of print, but readily available used, Utopia's Debris new; you could certainly do
worse with your book-buying budget this week than picking up the pair.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Bookshelves Are For Books Scott McLemee writes a splendid tongue-in-cheek riff off of these remarks: “Bookshelves are not for displaying books you’ve read,” says Klein; “those books go in...
  2. Michael Martone Interview at The Quarterly Conversation We just published an interview with Michael Martone, creator of delightful experimental fictions. I think most people who read this blog know Martone, but for...

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