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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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.


  • 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 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...
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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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