The End of Oulipo?

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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.


  • 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: 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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