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.


  • 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 […]

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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