The End of Oulipo?

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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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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

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Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • [[there.]] by Lance Olsen December 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen is the author of two recent works, [[there.]] and Theories of Forgetting (FC2). The second presents three narratives in a clearly fictional mode while the first offers day-to-day thoughts on living in another country. We rightly suspect that any artist’s memoir or diary ought to be viewed as written with a prospective public in mind, no matter ho […]
  • 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 […]
  • Mr Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn by Alessandro Baricco December 15, 2014
    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 […]
  • The Prabda Yoon Interview December 15, 2014
    Yes, I think people are not comfortable anymore to write in this straightforward, traditional way, especially the younger, more progressive writers. So it’s interesting—you have social commentary, and you also get a little bit of structural experiment. You have themes that are very, very Thai. I’m actually very interested to see what new writers will come up […]
  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck December 15, 2014
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  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
    Once, at a writers symposium, William Howard Gass remarked that to substitute the page for the world is a form of revenge for the recognition that "you are, in terms of the so-called world, an impotent nobody." There is inarguably no contemporary writer of American stock in whose work one might locate a more ambitious war of attrition between innov […]
  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
    Luiselli’s first novel, Faces in the Crowd, translated into fluid English by Christina MacSweeney, is the perfect illustration of this attitude toward fiction writing. Narrated in short sections spanning multiple storylines and the better part of one hundred years, it uses "[d]eep excavations" to expose the empty spaces in two lives, those of a you […]

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 pages 247 through 379. Get the schedule here. Purchase the book here and benefit this site. All posts related to this group read are here.


Scanning the comments to our Tunnel Big Read so far, it seems like some us have been getting close to disenchantment with Gass at various points during Week 2′s chunk of text. I do readily admit that at certain stretches I find The Tunnel frustrating, although that only means that (in my experience) it joins a number of other postmodern works that are widely regarded, including Gravity’s Rainbow, The Recognitions, Underworld, Terra Nostra, 2666, even Nabokov’s Ada, War & War, and Europe Central. I do think the dull stretches are more than compensated for by the stretches that work for me (which I’d say is maybe 80%-20% in favor of the stretches that work), and I’m willing to grant Gass his eccentricities in pursuit of his vision, as I have done for so many other authors before him.

More than that, however, it’s during Week 3′s reading that I’m really beginning to feel like this work is coming together for me. It’s still obviously a very baggy, digressive, and even self-indulgent book, but now I feel pretty clear that I have coordinates to navigate this book by. There are the Kohler’s Youth sections, dealing with his parents and the Depression-era Midwest (which I find beautiful portraits of both); the Workplace sections where Kohler details his relationships with his colleagues and his general disenchantment with academia (which I find interesting in a claustrophobic, unreliable sort of way); the Ranty sections where Kohler spews his bile about his life and the world in general; the Lou, Martha, and Susu sections, where Kohler details the failures of his love lives; the emerging PdP sections where Kohler is beginning to show his fascist leanings; and of course the Philosophical Mad Meg sections, where Kohler gives us the philosophical meat of the book (and I found the portrait of Magus on his deathbed in this week’s chunk of text incredibly well done).

The thing about The Tunnel, in my read, is that Gass frequently combines these various strands, even going so far as to weave among them at the level of sentence, image, and metaphor. This was, of course, very, very difficult at the beginning of the book when I had very little sense of Kohler as a whole, but the more I come to comprehend the organization of his life, the more I’m able to appreciate the choreography of the book for its beauty, despite the general difficulty and occasional obscurity.

For my own part that has been my experience of The Tunnel, and as I read I find myself picking up steam. It’s completely understanding if other people find the book too cumbersome, and I will readily admit that Gass’s prose and jokes can seem occasionally indulgent and even childish (I’ve long since accustomed myself to overcoming that hurdle to enjoy the larger pleasures of Gass’s writing). I’ll be interested to hear how everyone else feels about this book as we go on, why you want to drop out, if that’s what you’ve chosen to do, or why you’re continuing, if that’s what you’re doing.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. 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...
  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: 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...
  4. 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...
  5. The Tunnel Big Read: Where Kohler Becomes a Little Less Baggy 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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7 comments to The Tunnel Big Read: The Make or Break Week?

  • The deathbed sequence alone would earn this book another hundred pages of attention from me…

  • I’ve been a lurker – I’m enjoying the book a great deal, and loving the posts and comment threads from week one, but I’ve been consistently behind in the reading, and therefore haven’t contributed to the discussion. I’m close to the end of week two’s section.

    Compared to A Naked Singularity, this book has been very slow going for me, even though the read is rewarding and my will to continue is undiminished. Anyone else having trouble keeping up?

    To bring this back to the big postmodern books you mentioned, I’m a huge fan of those books, particularly Ada and GR. I find Ada and GR to be much easier to read read semi-quickly, compared to The Tunnel, which for me is more akin to The Recognitions, with its lengthy, but disjointed and often tedious party scenes.

    • Hilary

      Hi Mike, I just wanted to say: yes, I’m behind too! I guess I’m not surprised, since I’m often behind in things, but it is interesting to think about what an all-around commitment a book like this is, how much of one’s life it occupies, even demands, in the months one is reading it. And I find I can’t read it just before I go to sleep or I have terrible dreams…

  • Lorna

    I simply can’t keep up with the read but am completely drawn in by the experience and will be continuing at my own pace.

    I find that I want to read this novel especially slowly, as slowly as reading it aloud. I want to ‘hear’ the poetic sections, their rhythm and sounds, and savour them. By contrast, the repulsive sections pass more quickly. I often feel like I am voluntarily staying in the company of a person I would in all other circumstances avoid, but I am curious as to where this narrative is going to take me.

  • Neil Griffin

    I unfortunately finished this book right before Scott picked it as a group read. To me it was a beautiful, yet frustrating, book. There are some passages that among the best I’ve ever read; and other parts that are a bit tougher to get through. After I found the internal rhythm of the book, I found it easier going; and whenever I was frustrated, I focused on the sentence level and was amazed by the rythme and alliteration and the obvious work Gass put in to make it all fit together. Scott has already linked to Silverblatt’s review, but I’d like to call attention to the last part when he reveals some of the easier passages, which are a good way to enter the book if one is getting frustrated.

    http://articles.latimes.com/1995-03-19/books/bk-44339_1_william-gass/4

    “When Joyce’s “Ulysses” came out, helpful critics recommended passages that nervous readers might begin on (this often amounted to a list of the “dirty parts”). In Randall Jarrell’s essays the grateful reader finds lists of the most nearly perfect poems by Robert Frost, or the best stories by Chekhov or Kipling. In similar manner, I want to offer a list of sections of “The Tunnel” that will give an interested but timid reader an experience of the rapture I find in this book: We Have Not Lived the Right Life (pp. 96-146), The Sunday Drive (pp. 219-236), A Fugue (pp. 239-240), Kristallnacht (pp. 317-334), The First Winter of My Married Life (pp. 334-356), Child Abuse (pp. 375-379), Around the House (pp. 437-475), Being a Bigot (pp. 522-533), Do Rivers (pp. 554-563), Sweets (pp. 564-583), Aunts (pp. 583-603), Mother Bakes a Cake (pp. 603-615).”

  • Paul

    I can only echo the comments of several previous posts. I started off well ahead of schedule but am starting to find it hard to keep on track as progress is very slow compared to most other books I’ve read.

    Again, I can only agree that there have been passages that are just brilliant (I would include Kristallnacht & The First Winter of My Married Life) interspersed with some parts I find difficult to follow and which I fear I sometimes skim.

  • Gilly

    I started late on this one – wasn’t going to read it at all and then after reading the early comments decided I had to. The book took a while to arrive so I am way behind. For the first few pages i wondered if I was ever going to get anywhere with it. It took so long to read each page; then I must have suddenly discovered the internal rhythm that Neil mentioned and I was hooked. I love the way paragraphs, whole pages, have an internal poetry that resonates. I can understand why it would be a great audio book. At the moment for me it’s rather a sensuous, visceral experience. Maybe I will be able to analyse it more intellectually later. Kohler is a lot more tender than I expected him to be. The prose has infiltrated my life in the way great books do, rather disturbing in the dream world as someone else said (sorry, it is in another thread). Now I have to get back to it.

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