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

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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.


  • 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 […]

Top 10 Books of 2004: #2

#2 — Underworld — Don DeLillo

Underworld is a book that sifts through 50 years of Cold War America and ends up proving that a Cold War-less America is  a rudderless America. However, if Underworld were simply a polemic with no greater point than teaching this lesson, it would have been made obsolete by 9/11 and no one, other than professional historians, would care much about reading it.

This is not the case for many reasons, but I’d like to focus on just three.

First off, in its structure and feel, Underworld captures something essential about the world we inhabited in 1997 (when it was published) and inhabit still more today. The book consists of several disconnected, parallel narratives. Like a bunch of jumbo jet aircraft leaving parallel sets of contrails, the narratives that make up Underworld are laid out in parallel, but not explicitly made to touch. Then, like a light wind, the reader’s mind begins to make the narratives expand and intermingle and connections are discovered.

This strikes me as an apt portrayal of the idea of our world, with many contemporaneous narratives that are united by an unseen web of connections, just below surface level. Thus, in the way DeLillo has structured his book, he mimics something very important about our world, and in a much more compelling way than several other postmodern writers who have attempted the same thing. Also, as the name "Underworld" implies, DeLillo explores some of these "below surface level" elements that unite our world.

Second, Underworld successfully delves into the question of what unites us as Americans. With the amounts and kinds of diversity encompassed by America, it’s a far question to ask "what’s American?" In mulling over the Cold War, DeLillo comes up with some answers–he establishes a national Zeitgeist that didn’t die with the Cold War, but continued on past the fall of the Berlin Wall and is still present to this day.

Third and most important, Underworld is simply a pleasure to read. The book treads the fine line between being sufficiently coy to engage a reader’s mind and being so coy as to be incomprehensible. It’s a book that keeps a reader constantly thinking, which is another way to say it’s continually entertaining. It’s also a book that, at times, exhibits spectacular storytelling. The first 50 pages is worthy of a novella, and is among the best openings of the 20th century. Also, the book’s final section spectacularly exhibits DeLillo’s fine ear for English as it is spoken, and gives us another novella-esque narrative that is, if not quite as good as Underworld’s opening, still spectacular.

Top Ten:
#3 — Speak, Memory — Vladimir Nabokov
#4 — The Octopus — Frank Norris
#5 — The King of California — Mark Arax, Rick Wartzman
#6 — The Corrections — Jonathan Franzen
#7 — City of Glass — Paul Auster
#8 — Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years — Brian Boyd
#9 — Rise of the Creative Class — Richard Florida
#10 — Madeline is Sleeping — Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
Explanation

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Top 10 Books of 2004: #3 #3 — Speak, Memory — Vladimir Nabokov Returning to the remarks I made in selection #8, it is true that Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years...
  2. Top 10 Books of 2004: #8 #8 — Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years — Brian Boyd In a recent review of Borges: A Life for the NYTBR, David Foster Wallace wrote...
  3. Top 10 Books of 2004: #5 #5 — The King of California — Mark Arax, Rick Wartzman California is a pretty big state. Wait, big? Let me try again. California is...
  4. Top 10 Books of 2004: #9 #9 — Rise of the Creative Class — Richard Florida Sometimes the very best books don’t force everyone to bow down beneath their brilliance so...
  5. Top 10 Books of 2004: #6 #6 — The Corrections — Jonathan Franzen For me, this book carried a lot of baggage before I read it. First, there was the pre-publication...

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2 comments to Top 10 Books of 2004: #2

  • TEV

    Actually, they did release the prologue a few years ago called “Pafko at the Wall” (which disappointed me; seemed an obvious money grab). But I agree with you on Underworld – I think it’s one of the great American novels of the last 50 years.

  • Anonymous

    The prologue was actually originally published as Pafko at the Wall – a new novella by Don Delillo in Harper’s magazine many years before the novel even came out. I still thought re-publishing it was a poor stab at cash as Mark did. I also think that the prologue is the single best thing I’ve ever read as a stand-alone piece. I only somehow wish it could have been a novel ending novella length section because my memory of it was so high from the Harpers, and then from the re-read, that the rest of the book had no prayer of matching it, though it’s easily one of the best novels I’ve read. Sorry for the rambling.
    Enjoy,

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