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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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.


  • 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 Top Top Ten

coverJ. Peder Zane’s new book The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, is an interesting little item. Of course, we’ve all had our fill of top ten lists to the point that it’s socially inept to express too much enthusiasm for them any more. (Sven Birkerts, for example, in his introductory essay: "ranked lists of writers or books are my Achilles heel.") All too often they just tell us what we already know, and even though Birkerts tries valiantly to take away something, truth be told, I don’t think the aggregated Top Top Ten List presented here sheds too much light.

But, I also don’t think the Top Top Ten is the point of this book. For me, the fun is in seeing everything that squeezed its way in. For instance, Zane gave his 125 writers 10 picks, but somehow David Mitchell was allowed to add a "wild card": Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner, which he says is a book "that I badly want to be read more." I’m intrigued. A novel that the author of Cloud Atlas agrees isn’t all that weighty but that he still wants to be read. Why? It’s worth tracking a copy down.

Or how about Alan Furst bending the rules to include Rebecca West’s mammoth study of Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon? (He files it under "works of nonfiction that should be read as fiction.") Something about his insistence that this book be included makes it carry more weight with me than the novels he ranks higher.

I’m also curious about Emma Donoghue’s #10, Ulverton by Adam Thorpe: (How can’t you love a title like Ulverton?) "The fictional town of Ulverton–and the English language itself–are central characters of his debut novel in which a dozen different voices detail 300 years in the life of an English village."

The more I look through this book, the more I’m drawn to all the oddballs that just made their way in. Yes, of course I know such-and-such writer thinks Anna Karenina is the greatest thing ever, but what’s that, Madison Smartt Bell has a previously unacknowledged liking for something called The Conference of the Birds? Interesting.

On another level, I’ll admit to finding not a little pleasure in picking various writers’ brains via their favorite books. For instance, who would have guessed the uber-macho Norman Mailer would put Pride and Prejudice at #5? Of course, his 1-4 picks are four Russian novels that you can probably guess, but credit to Mailer for giving John Dos Passos’s under-read U.S.A. trilogy the #6 spot. The guy’s not all bad.

Alas, J-Franz doesn’t give us any Maileresque surprises but instead confirms his milquetoast reputation with a completely predictable list. Paul Auster’s list is similarly pedestrian, but coming from Auster the books somehow feel weightier. I think it has something to do with the love of literature he speaks through his books. After reading his novels I feel like I can understand why Moby-Dick, Don Quixote, and The Scarlet Letter show up. (But where’s "Fanshawe"?) Likewise, Julian Barnes giving us Madame Bovary as his favorite is nothing if not predictable, but after reading Flaubert’s Parrot, I know exactly why he so exalts it. (But what’s with Don Juan as his #2?)

Arthur Philips scores some points for putting Life A User’s Manual at #2, and giving a fine appreciation. One quote:

The first miracle: A novel built from a strictly limited construction–the description of one single moment in a Paris apartment building–blossoms into an encyclopedia of stories and life spanning centuries, the globe, the history of literature. The second miracle: A moving, humane novel composed of implausible, even impossible parts.

Exactly.

I’ve got to say, though, I’m a little disappointed in DFW for turning in what appears to be a joke list. If he didn’t want to participate he could have just said so (or is Fear of Flying really his fifth favorite book of all time?).

Likewise, I’m disappointed that Gravity’s Rainbow managed to appear on nobody’s list whatsoever. V. just made it with one 9-spot (thank you T.C. Boyle). Likewise, one 9-ball for Haruki Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (maybe after another 10 years). (Credit to Zane for putting both GR and Wind-Up Bird on his list.) But big props to Lydia Millet for giving J.R. her number one pick. Gilbert Sorrentino’s Red the Fiend also makes her list, and of that book she writes:

In brutal simplicity, with recourse to uniquely effective listing devices, the precise and beautiful prose lays bare the excruciating particularities of Red’s pain and shame and makes palpably real his journey from, if not innocence, at least relative neutrality toward craftiness and deft manipulation.

This, more than anything else I’ve read, makes me want to read Millet.

Although I’m naturally skeptical of all "top ten"–type enterprises, I’ve got to say that this book has won me over. It’s proven to be pretty interesting, and I think it will prove to be a pretty good source of recommendations–especially if I keep my eye on the bottom of the lists.

——
If you’re looking for an online education but are worried about the cost of school books you can always consider college grants.

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  1. Top Ten Books I Read This Year Right about now everyone and their mother is coming out with a list of the top ten books from 2004. I’m not sure that I’m...
  2. NYT Top Ten The Times has whittled their 100 notable books to the top 10 of 2006 (5 fiction, 5 non). Of the 5, there’s one reviewed in...
  3. Voice Top 25 The Village Voice Top 25 is online. On the whole I like the list a lot. I think it’s the best end-of year list I’ve...
  4. Top 100 Time pickes the 100 best novels written in the English language since 1923. Time to get in touch with your inner wounded pride and excessively...
  5. Cloud Atlas Done, Underworld back on top Well, I’ve finished with Cloud Atlas, and now I’m turning back to finish the last 200 pages or so of Underworld. I have a few...

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5 comments to The Top Top Ten

  • Based on our common favorites (JR) and her love for Red the Fiend (which I’ve been raving about for years), I just ordered a pile of Millet’s books, since I’ve never read her and she’s clearly interested in the same books I am.

  • I like reading, and this book looks very good. It’s intersting reading a book about reading and writing.

  • Avery Palmer

    Hello,
    You really should read Ulverton. A good overview of Adam Thorpe’s work is here:
    http://bostonreview.net/BR28.3/hynes.html

  • Tim Jacobs

    Hi. Can you let me know what the other DFW titles are that he mentions in this book? I appreciate it.
    Thanks,
    Tim

  • I know nothing about DFW’s list other than what you posted, and maybe he was actually kidding, but I too like “Fear of Flying,” which is a pretty good bildungsroman about one writer’s development. The sex angle of the book gets way overplayed. I think readers, especially readers who want to be writers, will respond more to scenes of artistic, rather than sexual, frustration. I once met Erica Jong at a book signing and expressed all this to her; she happily responded that she had actually toyed with the title “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman,” which would have been an accurate description.

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