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.


  • A Legacy by Sybille Bedford March 15, 2015
    Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedfor […]
  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
    Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Gr […]
  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
    New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, wa […]
  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
    This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countr […]
  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
    The Fall of Language in the Age of English stirred up debate upon its publication in Japan in 2008, and it’s possible it will do so in the U.S. with its arrival in Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter's translation. In their introduction, Yoshihara and Winters Carpenter, point out that Japanese reviewers accused Mizumura of being a jingoist, an e […]
  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
    Another View demonstrates exciting potential in translation study and praxis. It is especially significant in deconstructing assumptions about fluency and linguistic identity. The author makes some persuasive arguments for considering and even preferring non-native translation of texts, the most controversial of which is the possibility that linguistic compe […]
  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
    Despite South Korea having the kind of vibrant literary scene you'd expect from a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we're still not exactly inundated with English translations of South Korean fiction. Given this dearth, Dalkey Archive Press's Library of Korean Literature series, twenty five titles published in collab […]
  • B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal by J.C. Hallman March 14, 2015
    here’s a conspicuous history of books that simply should not work: Books like U & I by Nicholson Baker, a book-length exercise in “memory criticism,” where Baker traces Updike’s influence on his own writing life while studiously not actually re-reading any of Updike’s books. Or books like Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer’s book that procrastinates away from […]
  • The Valerie Miles Interview March 14, 2015
    The idea was to uncover the secret life of these texts, why do their creators consider them their best work? What’s the clandestine, the underground, the surreptitious meaning or attachment? Where’s the kernel, the seed from which a body of work grew, what the driving obsession? Is it something sentimental, something technical, maybe even something spiritual […]
  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
    Look up at the sky, or down into the ocean, and what color do you see? We see blue, but not Homer—he never once employs the term throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, famously calling the sea "wine-dark" and the heavens "bronze." Neither did the Greek philosopher Xenophanes say blue—he described the rainbow as having only three colors. Th […]

The Value of MFA Programs

It really says something that the comments to this interview on Salon between Curtis Sittenfeld and Iowa Writers Workshop Director Lan Samantha Chang are far more interesting and honest-sounding than the interview itself. I don’t mean to beat on MFA programs (I know plenty of people who are good writers and had great experiences); it’s just that this interview sounds wholly canned. There are plenty of pros and cons to getting a Creative Writing MFA, so if you’ve got the people and the venue to explore them . . . why not do it?

For instance:

Do you think, “Fine. Criticize MFAs. Who cares?”

No. It’s so fascinating to me that smart people waste, or spend, an enormous amount of effort criticizing people who love to read and write. You know?

I mean, people enter the MFA system, and some of them are paying money to do so, because they love to read and write. Bottom line. That’s not a sin to me. I feel that people have a lot of reasons for pursuing an MFA and they’re not all the reasons that the critics of the MFA program would necessarily accept and understand. For example, I think when you go to an MFA program, it gives you a different orientation toward time, generally.

How so?

You have time to think and to pursue something that you love. That’s pretty basic. I mean, if the program is supporting you, which I think it should. I think an MFA program should fund its students.

Versus:

It’s not that MFA programs are a bad thing exactly, but they do have a tendency to become a bit insular, both in the writing that comes out of them and in what gets published. The poetry world is especially guilty of publishing to and with the same set of writers, and it concerns me that some very talented people are going by the wayside as a result.

As an avid reader and a professional person who works with literature for a living, I can usually spot pieces that come out of an MFA program pretty easily, especially short stories. They often have a sameness that is worrisome.

Again, I’m not saying all MFA programs are bad. Often, schooling can help a good writer become a better writer. No one can teach greatness, of course.

What I am saying is that it’s very, very easy to get faddish, lazy, or fall into bad habits, and it’s very easy for cronyism to spring up as well. I wish some of these programs would be more wary about that.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Writing Myths Over at Poets & Writers, there’s a pretty good list (with commentary) of myths writers "live by, but shouldn’t." Of the myths listed, these are...
  2. Javier Marias Is a Sexy Author I'd like to introduce the first in a new series of ebooks published under the auspices of The Quarterly Conversation. The book is called, Lady...
  3. The Real Cuckoo’s Nest Nice review of The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing in the current Bookforum. The book details how the MFA has...
  4. Sebald Interview Even though it’s ten years old, I thought I’d link to this Sebald interview since it has been making the rounds. (By which I mean,...
  5. Generational Differences Lauren has a pretty good take on the Mavis Gallant interview in the current Granta: What I found most interesting about their conversation was the...

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