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.


  • 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 Tunnel Big Read Schedule

We are starting the Big Read of William H. Gass’s The Tunnel on Sunday, September 30. Below you will find the schedule and links to some commentary on the book.

In order to account for various editions of this book, I will also include section breaks with the page numbers on this schedule and throughout the Big Read to help everyone remain oriented. The edition I have is the early Dalkey paperback, distinguished by a grainy greenish-yellow cover image of darkness converging on a roughly square-shaped hole of light in the image’s center, obviously to denote the idea of a tunnel (pictured above).

Schedule

Week 1: September 30 – October 6: pg. 3 (beginning of subsection “Life in a Chair”) – pg. 127 (beginning of subsection “Mad Meg”)

Week 2: October 7 – October 13: pg. 127 (beginning of subsection “Mad Meg”) – pg. 247 (beginning of subsection “Mad Meg,” with the words, “His voice was rather high . . .”)

Week 3: October 13 – October 20: pg. 247 (beginning of subsection “Mad Meg,” with the words, “His voice was rather high . . .”) – pg. 379 (beginning of subsection “Foreskinned” with, “I don’t know whether my father . . .”)

Week 4: October 21 – October 27: pg. 379 (beginning of subsection “Foreskinned” with, “I don’t know whether my father . . .”) – pg. 522 (beginning of subsection “Being a Bigot” with, “My father was unable to teach . . .”)

Week 5: October 28 – November 3: pg. 522 (beginning of subsection “Being a Bigot” with, “My father was unable to teach . . .”) – End of The Tunnel

Commentary

Stephen Schenkenberg in The Quarterly Conversation:

For anyone who still cares about this book—essentially, Kohler letting loose a plotless stream of notes from underground on his crappy childhood, fat wife, dim colleagues, much missed mentor, and lonely existence—it’s been a great year. Dalkey Archive Press, which has published The Tunnel since 1999, has given us two valuable offerings: last spring, Dalkey’s low-profile journal CONTEXT published a two-page document called “Designing The Tunnel,” excerpts from Gass’s 12-point instructions to the book’s designer about layout, type, and the overall visual goals as they related to the book’s themes; and a month later, the publisher released an unabridged audio book of the novel, recorded by the 82-year-old author last year near his home in St. Louis. One is two pages; the other, 45 hours. Both provide compelling ways to re-experience this disagreeable and stunning novel.

Michael Silverblatt in the Los Angeles Times:

Now at last we have “The Tunnel.” For months I have been digging through it. A bleak, black book, it engenders awe and despair. I have read it in its entirety 4 1/2 times, each time finding its resonance and beauty so great as to demand another reading. As I read, I found myself devastated by the thoroughness of the book’s annihilating sensibility and revived by the beauty of its language, the complexity of its design, the melancholy, horror and stoic sympathy in its rendering of what we used to call the human condition.

James Wolcott in The New Criterion:

In the spirit of Donald Barthelme, another metafictionist influenced by the French nouveau roman, The Tunnel makes elaborate use of cartoons, diagrams, different typefaces, and bold headlines to break up its self-referential text with nutty distractions, juggling signs and signifiers like silverware. Yet the novel strives to be more than an anti-novel. It aspires to be a permanent splotch on literature’s soul, a personal neurosis that attains the status of a cultural condition. Its sensibility is steeped in the thick, shadowed enclosures of Kafka, Céline, Rilke, Joyce, and Proust, all of whom are cited in the text. Like Harold Brodkey’s The Runaway Soul and Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost, The Tunnel is an effort to disgorge The Last Modernist Masterpiece—to create a super-chunky word-mass in which the sum total of one man’s loquacious consciousness expands like the cosmos (and sums up the century). . . .

The irony is that when Gass first discussed The Tunnel, he struck the defiant pose of the lone, proud artist camped in his foxhole, determined to buck the philistines and go against the American grain. “Who knows, perhaps it will be such a good book no one will want to publish it. I live on that hope,” he said. For all his flirting with the prospect of The Tunnel containing the explosive power of a Forbidden Book (call the bomb squad! this baby could go off at any moment, taking the traditional novel with it!), he has hardly found himself shunned by fiction editors. His acknowledgments also mention that portions of the novel have appeared in Conjunctions, Esquire, Fiction, Grand Street, Granta, The Iowa Review, The Kenyon Review, New Letters, The Paris Review, Perspective, Salmagundi, TriQuarterly, and The Yale Review. Which suggests that as bad as Gass is, he isn’t as bad as he wants to be, or thinks he is. His guff can be accommodated. Goading the reader with obscenity and bigotry, Gass breathes so hard, we never believe Kohler as a cracked vessel of foul vapors and invidious intent. He’s a bogus boogie-man, guilty of overacting. He hogs the page.

William H. Gass in “Designing The Tunnel:

This spring, Dalkey Archive Press will be releasing The Tunnel Audiobook—a reading performed by the author himself. What follows are excerpts from William Gass’s original instructions regarding the layout and design of The Tunnel, as they were circulated with the typescript before its initial publication in 1995.

These give a fascinating glimpse into the process of bringing such a graphically complex work to print—especially since a number of the author’s intended effects did not make it into the finished book. Page numbers refer to the typescript, but references for the current edition of the novel have been provided in brackets where possible. Our thanks to the author for permission to publish these selections, and to W. F. Kohler for the use of his illustrations.

Robert Kelly in The New York Times:

Once I tried to write a novel in the voice of someone I detested, while still engaging the reader’s fellow feeling. Alas, it was all too easy. And the reader found it all too easy to accept my monster as a hero. There is a trahison des clercs not confined to historians and political analysts. Novelists and poets too can commit the treason of the intellectuals. Kohler’s whole existence, his operatic self-pity, the very articulateness of his self-justifications, affront our sense of right and of intellectual responsibility. Yet this is where the satiric novelist works best, exploring this plausible monster, our shadow man.

In creating such a character, Mr. Gass avails himself of classic arms of modernism: allusion, puzzle, style as flesh, language as fable. In those particulars he will not at all disappoint the readers who were so excited by his stories (“In the Heart of the Heart of the Country”) a quarter-century ago, his novel “Omensetter’s Luck,” the enthralling essays of “On Being Blue,” and, closest in many ways to the book at hand, that nonpareil shimmer of text and image in the novella “Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife,” a foretaste of what we find in “The Tunnel.”

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