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.


  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić September 15, 2014
    As Drndić reiterates throughout the novel, “Behind every name there is a story.” And Haya Tedeschi’s story is draped in death. Born to a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism and tacitly supported the Fascists in Italy, Haya was a bystander to the Holocaust. She attended movies while Jews and partisans were transported to concentration camps; she pored […]
  • The Tree With No Name by Drago Jančar September 15, 2014
    At the opening of chapter 87—the first chapter found in The Tree with No Name—Janez Lipnik finds himself up a tree, shoeless, and lost in the Slovenian countryside. He makes his way to a house where he is taken in by a woman teacher who is waiting for her lover, a soldier. It becomes clear we are at the height of World War II. Soon after, we follow Lipnik […]
  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
    Here, at the midpoint of his narrative, Bernhard, the affectless and purposeless protagonist of "The Unseen," experiences existential near-emancipation at dusk. This retreat toward obscurity in terse, direct language—thematic and stylistic markers of each work in the collection—comes immediately after Bernhard’s sister mentions her plans to enterta […]
  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
    In his new book of essays, Berlin Now, Peter Schneider reveals himself as a gnarled Cold Warrior who has been stricken with many of the maladies common to his generation. With the specter of Communism exorcized, his new enemy is Islam. The book is a collection of short interlocking pieces introducing Anglophone readers to Berlin; it is not being published in […]
  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
    “It seemed that the [New Yorker] story—which was in part the result of my dealing with the reception of my novel—had been much more widely received than the novel itself,” says the narrator of Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04. Perhaps this narrator is Lerner himself—at one point he describes 10:04, within its own pages, as “neither fiction nor nonfiction but […]
  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting is a masterful work structured around Robert Smithson’s earthwork “The Spiral Jetty.” Olsen’s novel is comprised of three narrations, written each by a separate member of a family. The husband’s and wife’s texts progress in opposite directions across the book, with each page divided among these two inverted texts; though […]
  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
    In The Ants, we receive a study of existence through ants. That is, there are ants everywhere, ants substituted in every segment of the landscape, yet their behavior seems to reveal something altogether human. Too human. The ants are crushed and disappointed. They are warm and many. They are involved in gang wars and live inside carrot cake. The unique quali […]

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 pages 379 through 522. Get the schedule here. Purchase the book here and benefit this site. All posts related to this group read are here.


In my read of The Tunnel, this week’s section offers perhaps the most damning look at Kohler yet: the section titled “Around the House,” which is simply an account of a typical Kohler morning in his home. The “banality of evil” has become a cliche, and yet, there is something so very horrifying about the prosaic details of Kohler’s sad life. What comes across to me here is how fundamentally alone he is in the world, how he has so little to fill his day (hence this logorrheic journal and his “tunnel” project), how much he hates his life (and is loath to accept that), and, of course, his admiration for Hitler and sympathy with the Nazi view of the world. It runs on for nearly 40 pages. It is exhausting, and all the more so because it is flawless. “So much of life hangs about like this,” writes Kohler of the “deadly calm” in which he passes his days. “Quiet as enamel though capable of clatter—like this, like wire hangers in a closet. Waiting for the waiting to be over.” [475]

“Around the House” is a strange piece of writing: it is so successful, Gass so compellingly gets across this image of Kohler by using a novelist’s toolbox, and yet it lacks almost all that one would normally consider novelistic, and all this artistry is in giving us a loathsome portrait of a stale life. I don’t quit know what to make of it. Do I like this? Does it horrify me? Do I like it more for succeeding in horrifying me?

And then, even stranger yet, is “Susu, I Approach You in My Dreams,” where we must say Kohler experiences some kind of a mental breakdown.

In these sections, I think, The Tunnel approaches the condition that Gass has set about arcing toward throughout the bulk of this novel, the abandonment of what we might construe as the “novelistic” portion of The Tunnel in favor of a forthright depiction of just how awful a hate-filled, isolated life can become. I will say that at this point Gass has earned it, but is he right to ask us to experience it? What is the point of it? What do we, as readers, gain?

In addition to these, we have the rather strange sections “Foreskinned,” about Kohler’s traumatic penile experiences as a child, and three rant-like sections where Kohler vents his spleen regarding his colleagues. These are all artfully done, although I can’t say I got a whole lot out of them other than a further demonstration of Kohler’s awful mind and some garden-variety philosophizing regarding the nature of history. What did you all find in these sections? Anything more worthy than extremely skillfully executed renditions of Kohler’s awful mind? And if that is all you found, is that enough? Is this literature?

I am curious to see where this all goes in our last week of reading, but, given the trajectory, I can only assume that it will (no pun intended) run itself into the ground. It seems that Gass is setting us up for Kohler’s final descent into hell, implied all the way back on page 3, where we find the book’s epigraph: “Anaxagoras said to a man who was grieving because he lay dying in a foreign land, ‘The descent to hell is the same from every place.’”

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. The Tunnel Big Read: The Make or Break Week? We are group reading William H. Gass’s The Tunnel on this website from September 30 through November 3. We are currently in Week 3, covering...
  2. 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...
  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: Responses to The Tunnel 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...
  5. The Tunnel Big Read: Questions for Week 2′s Reading We are group reading William H. Gass’s The Tunnel on this website from September 30 through November 3. We are currently in Week 2, covering...

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