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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.

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.


  • 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 Tunnel Big Read: Next Up for Gass, Middle C, by Kirby Gann

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 Gass aficionado Kirby Gann, whose novel Ghosting was recently named a Best Book of 2012 by Publishers Weekly.

Most responses to The Tunnel (at least those of which I’m aware) trend toward readers’ frustrations with the narrative’s evident formlessness, its absent narrative drive, and the long stretches of Kohler’s parsing negativity, his self-probing into the foundation and boundaries of his fascistic mind. It’s the kind of book that makes one wonder if the author would have still gotten away with publishing it as it is (or publishing it at all) if it had not been written by an Acknowledged Master of the age. Yes, it’s brilliant, and insanely dark, but, as Scott asked at one point during the Big Read: do we need a book like this? It’s a question I asked myself several times while determinedly plowing through to the end back when I read the novel not long after it came out; it’s also (unfortunately) a question I can’t propose an answer to—especially now, nearly twenty years having passed since I read it. I remember finishing the book out of sheer determination because I idolized the author of Omensetter’s Luck (one of our great novels), the writer of those brilliant essays, and once I closed the book at its end I confess my faith in the writer was somewhat shaken. He spent thirty years writing this? I finished it glad to be finished with Kohler. It took a great deal of time to recognize that part of Gass’ achievement struck me when I understood that Kohler was not through with me; The Tunnel’s narrator is the kind that haunts a mind; images from the book, rants from Kohler’s spewing maw, pop back into the head when the real world presents events that make it hard not to agree with our disgusting historian’s view of humanity. Let’s face it; our race sucks.

Gass has one of the great quotes from The Paris Review interview series. When asked why he writes, he said: “I write because I hate. Hard.”

Gass has a new novel coming out in March 2013 called Middle C. In his old age (Gass is 88) his ire toward mankind hasn’t changed, but perhaps his sense of time passing has; according to the book’s publicity materials, Middle C required only “almost twenty years” of the author’s effort as opposed to The Tunnel’s thirty. It’s a shorter work (464 pages) and, although I have not finished the ARC yet, I’m pleased to say that it bears a closer resemblance to Omensetter’s Luck than the fat container of consciousness The Tunnel purports to be.

Plot, narrative drive, dramatic tension—these have never been primary concerns for Gass and the new novel remains in that tradition. However, there is story here, and plenty of it. We start in Graz, Austria, in 1938, when a gentile father adopts the identity of Jews in order to allow his family to flee the madness he can foresee consuming his country, and brings his family to London. There, the family makes do during the war, until the father takes off again; this time alone, leaving a mother and two small children to fend for themselves. They become refugees once more, fleeing to America, and—this being a Gass novel—end up in small-town Ohio. All this in the first chapter, and during each step of the journey the family members take on different names, and Gass has a blast punning from Yussel to Yankel to Skizzens to Fixel, and I won’t even get into their different first names; suffice to say that from the second chapter onward we stick with the son, comfortably named Joseph/Joey by now, and thus easier to follow.

Gass is more concerned with his themes than plot. Though Joseph is written with great sympathy, and his growth from child to man is detailed with all the passions and disappointments we typically expect from a novel in the realistic mode, the author’s familiar obsessions rise to the fore, and he worries each in their various manifestations: music (Joseph becomes an amateur pianist of some renown); disappointment in mankind, if not quite outright misanthropy (Gass manages one of his greatest inventions here, with Joseph’s goal to establish what he calls the Inhumanity Museum); the variety and scope of consciousness and possible identities within the mind. Also—perhaps fundamentally—the structure and sound of language itself. A continuous motif throughout the book is the following sentence: The fear that the human race might not survive has been replaced by the fear that it will endure. Gass allows us to watch as Joseph puts this sentence through many possible variations, weighing alternate clauses, predicates, adverbial and adjectival weights; it’s a sentence he was worked on for years, having gone through 700 or so versions as he strives to compose an essay on this subject that will match his Inhumanity Museum. Gass being Gass, we are along for the ride as Joseph works through several permutations, debating with himself the pros and cons of each.

This is not as boring as it might sound. What it leads to is not some Kohler rant, but the invention of a self, a framework for a self that is capable of living a virtuous life in today’s world. 150 pages into this book I can admit no need to dig for the determination that allowed me to finish The Tunnel; thus far it seems apparent that Gass has lost none of his felicity of phrase or outrageous talent for inventing the perfect and unlikely metaphor, and in Joseph Skizzens (among other names he may have) we encounter a character it is not only possible to be fascinated by, but to whom we may feel a degree of empathy, too.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. 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...
  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: 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...
  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: Some Questions for Week 1 We are group reading William H. Gass’s The Tunnel on this website from September 30 through November 3. We are currently in Week 1, covering...

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