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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Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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
    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
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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
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“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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