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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You Say

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

Shop though these links = Support this site


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.


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  • Noir and Nihilism in True Detective December 15, 2014
    "It’s just one story. The oldest. . . . Light versus dark." Spanning 8 episodes between January and March of 2014, HBO’s runaway hit True Detective challenged the status quo of contemporary crime drama. The show has been widely celebrated for its philosophy, complexity, and visual aesthetic. Co-starring actors Matthew McConaughey as Rustin "Ru […]
  • The Colonel’s World December 15, 2014
    Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born 1940) is considered by many the living Iranian novelist, a perennial Nobel Prize candidate. Dowlatabadi wrote The Colonel some thirty years ago, because in his own words he had been “afflicted.” The subject forced him to sit at the desk and write nonstop for two years. “Writing The Colonel I felt a strong sense of indignation and pa […]
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    Alessandro Baricco’s well-crafted, elegant prose seems as though it should create the impression of distance, or of abstraction; instead, the reader of Mr. Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn becomes wholly implicated and immersed, drawn into a dreamy and idiosyncratic world that blurs the division between reader, character and writer. As readers, we expect that th […]
  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash December 15, 2014
    "The paan shop leads to the opening of a tunnel, full of the creatures of the city, and the tears and spit of a fakir." In a single opening line, Uday Prakash sets the scene for the politically incisive, yet intimately human stories of The Walls of Delhi (translated brilliantly from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum). Lest the fakir suggest otherwise, t […]
  • The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation December 15, 2014
    In a speech reprinted in the book, Heim makes a self-deprecating joke about whether the life of a translator is worth reading: “What does a translator do? He sits and translates!” The Man Between serves as a book-length retort by laying bare all the things Heim did: these include persuading the academy that translation is a scholarly (in addition to a creati […]
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  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
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  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
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The Tunnel Big Read: “I Could Not Read The Tunnel Before Sleeping . . .” by Hilary Plum

This post is part of the group read of William H. Gass’s The Tunnel on this website from September 30 through November 3. The read is concluded, but you can still experience this singular, bizarre book for yourself. Read along with us by having a look at the schedule here. Purchase the book here and benefit this site. All posts related to this group read are here.


These thoughts are from Tunnel Big Read participant Hilary Plum.

I could not read The Tunnel before sleeping; then Kohler would hound me through my dreams. So for this five weeks each morning has begun with the tome splayed open on the kitchen table, other books required to hold down its corners, while I ate breakfast and pretended this was a civilized way to begin a day. I am behind in reading and felt such relief the other day remembering that soon I would be finished, that soon each day would not begin in this vilely beautiful enchantment. Though already I hope to read The Tunnel someday again.

Big books: I rarely read them. My life is too fragmented—chronic illness—it’s hard enough to hold onto any thread of my own thought, my work, hard to add to that a commitment of such scope and at which I worry I’ll be bound to fail. Lately what I look for in books is how the work expresses its understanding of how it will be read (for read, read: lived); how its rhythms and endeavor will be broken up over, suffused throughout, digested by, the daily cadence and strange depths of a stranger’s life. It would be fair to say I dreaded reading The Tunnel and each day took my fifteen to twenty pages like medicine (or is it poison?). And yet I loved it too, and no one could deny its singular beauty, prose of such force and dizzying craft its spell is hard to break. It’s tempting to force this beauty into the metaphor: sugar that makes the bitter pill of the novel’s Weltanschauung go down. But it is not so simple. The beauty is essential to the nightmare, and The Tunnel fights our attempts to tame it thus in description.

The Tunnel tells us: “A book… is like a deck of windows: each page perceives a world and tells a fortune; each page at least faintly reflects the face of its reader, and hands down a judgment; each page is made of mind, and it is that same mind that perceives the world outside, and it is that same mind that reflects a world within, and it is that same mind that stands translucently between perception and reflection, uniting and dividing, double dealing.”

Many literary works deal in, or would like to, the profound disappointment Kohler embodies (or canonizes; or rages against and into). The emptiness of American suburban middle-age; the grotesque failure of man’s intellectual endeavors. Gass goes further, if not furthest, howling all the way down into fiction’s living grave. He makes us see in Kohler a self we can recognize. He takes the hard-won tools of fiction and shows us what they can be “good” for: “writers on the Third Reich—before my example—have never troubled to put themselves in the villains’ place, to imagine the unimaginable—it is easy to be a victim… you simply weep and bleed—but ah, the beater, to be the beater is not a role whose easy mastery is readily admittable; sympathies in such a cause are not idly, not routinely, not frequently enlisted; and were they to be, what then?” I don’t think it’s right to read this book as saying only one thing, explicating any one theory; its excess is vital. Yet, for instance, that passage on die Hände des Führers: to be so persuasively reminded that fascism lived not in the heart of one monster but in the hearts and more importantly the hands of millions: “it was the sum of us in the vast ranks who were accomplishing Hitler’s beautiful barbarities.” One commenter has noted the repetition of the phrase “the fascism of the heart”: indeed.

“Even in death, the Führer’s followers proclaimed, if it came to that. And they knew death would be where he’d take them: that land no one needs to promise.” One thinks of that summary history one learns (is it true? I can’t say): that the Holocaust itself sabotaged the Nazis’ military triumph, made impossible the Thousand-Year Reich; even as in battle the Germans suffered shortage and setback, the trains to the death camps ran with remarkable efficiency. The defeat of the Nazis begins the American century: their downfall our triumph. Thus it seems right (in the logic of history and nightmare both) that in The Tunnel fascism endures, takes foul root, in the American plains and the postwar American mind. “A book is like a deck of windows”—Kohler spends his life reading about the Nazis and discovers himself among them, on the other side of the glass. Now we spend our days reading Kohler and must face that the mind faintly reflected in his, the hell we perceive, is our own.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. The Tunnel Big Read: The Beginning of the End? We are group reading William H. Gass’s The Tunnel on this website from September 30 through November 3. We are currently in Week 4, covering...
  2. The Tunnel Big Read: Final Week This begins our fifth and final week of group reading The Tunnel. Congrats to those who have made it this far, and best wishes...
  3. The Tunnel Big Read: Historical Philosophy and Broken Windows We are group reading William H. Gass’s The Tunnel on this website from September 30 through November 3. We are currently in Week 4, covering...
  4. The Tunnel Big Read: The End and a Few Last Questions This post is part of the group read of William H. Gass’s The Tunnel on this website from September 30 through November 3. The read...
  5. The Tunnel Big Read: How Long Can We Stand Kohler? We are group reading William H. Gass’s The Tunnel on this website from September 30 through November 3. We are currently in Week 5, our...

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