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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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  • Lance: I agree with you about the state of American fiction and I b

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 Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

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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