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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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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: 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: Week 3 Welcome to Week 3 of our group read of William H. Gass’s The Tunnel. The read lasts from September 30 through November 3. We...
  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: 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...
  5. The Tunnel Big Read? If you’re on my Twitter you might have seen me post this last week: I am feeling kinda like doing a fall Big Read for...

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