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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

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


  • A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: Scott Esposito

We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Scott Esposito, who edits The Quarterly Conversation.

To read all entries in this series, click here.

The Plains and A History of Books by Gerald Murnane

I read these in preparation for an essay I wrote on Murnane for the journal Music & Literature (in itself a favorite read). The short novel The Plains is the book many consider to be Murnane’s finest. For me, he’s all about making maps of memory out of words, and The Plains may very well have the most challenging, irrational geography of them all. It is remarkable and beautiful, quotable on almost every page. I also read his collection of short prose, A History of Books. I frankly don’t know what to call these works: essays, short stories, memoir . . . none of those and all of them seem right.

The Letters of William Gaddis

A remarkable book for so many reasons, but my favorite—seeing the day-to-day life of a true outsider genius, to watch this great man find his artistic way, develop a circle of trusted friends, and discover the true meaning of his life’s work.

My Struggle Vol II by Karl Ove Knausgaard

This volume is all about how Knausgaard falls in love with the woman he eventually marries, and it is foremost an extremely insightful, very moving and passionate description of the first months of a deep romance. But there is so much more in this book. Here Knausgaard invokes Dostoevsky and talks about his desires to live as an Ubermensch, versus the conformist dictates of modern society (as well as what he fears are his own inclinations toward conformism). It is a very honest, serious discussion of this question, the scenes in which he embodies this conversation on the page are among my favorites of the first three books of the sextet.

The Waves by Virginia Woolf

2013 will forever be remembered as the year I first read Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. What else is there to say? This is one of the greatest books I will ever read. Six individuals collectively narrating their lives as one long mutual monologue, aging from children to seniors. Woolf masters, simply masters, six individuals who, collectively approach universality. A true masterwork by one of the 20th century’s most radiant geniuses.

When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson has an awful lot to say about myth, science, America, literature, creativity, religion, the academy . . . she says it very well here, and frequently very originally. These pieces will re-arrange your mind, and the writing is beautiful.

The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico García Lorca Ascends to Hell by Carlos Rojas

This book is at once three things: an immaculately styled novel; a riddle on the level of Borges; and a compelling and original vision of hell. This is the sort of book you can live inside for quite some time.

George Anderson: Notes for a Love Song in Imperial Time by Peter Dimock

This novel does a very rare thing: it is unabashedly and passionately political (and not only that, discussing the most important subject of our time—September 11, 2001 and the utterly destructive and futile War on Terror it unleashed), yet this politicking does not in the least diminish its literary experimentalism, which is of the highest order. A book that makes high art and high politics coexist—I never knew it could be done until Peter Dimock did it.

The Gaze of Orpheus and Other Essays and The Infinite Conversation by Maurice Blanchot

2013 was also the year that I got deeply in to Maurice Blanchot’s essays, namely The Gaze of Orpheus and Other Essays (in Lydia Davis’s translation) and The Infinite Conversation. There is so much to say about these works . . . I think I most appreciate Blanchot’s deep insights into what precisely writing is—how it occurs and what it means for the life of the writer—as well as his use of Western myth and archetype to articulate this process and the experience of reading.

Blow-Up by Julio Cortázar

Read “Axolotl” first, because it’s the first story in there and because you really owe yourself. If at that point you don’t feel like reading further, the next step would be to have your head examined.

The Mirror in the Well by Micheline Marcom

I read this slim masterpiece in a few spellbound hours. From the epigraphs all the way through to the very last line, it was one of the most passionate, aesthetically whole books I read this year. Here form and substance are just as they should be—clearly and unambiguously one, just as thoroughly as the two bodies that entwine on almost every page (though never growing tiresome). A book that requires a most uncommonly honest author, a book of true insight into one of the rarest, most fleeting parts of the human condition.

The Girl with the Golden Eyes and Colonel Chabert by Balzac

Most anything you read by Balzac will be better than things not by him. That is just the way it is. His books always seem to begin with some description on French life that is utterly beside the point from perspective of plot yet is so aesthetically appealing that it just has to be in there. For The Girl with the Golden Eyes it’s a description of Parisian life; for Colonel Chabert, it’s the dialogue of clerks in a law office, showing just how amazing merely doing one’s job can be.

A Place in the Country by W.G. Sebald

This is a collection of Sebald’s early essays. They stand somewhere between the academic criticism he wrote for the first decades of his life and the increasingly strange critical narratives he wrote in the last decades. A bridge I didn’t want to cross so much as gaze out from.

Cuentos by Roberto Bolaño

Before tackling this sizable book I hadn’t read much of Bolaño in Spanish, and nor had I read many of his short stories. So I was doubly in for a treat.

Seiobo There Below by Laszlo Krasznahorkai

This book is a vault that opens up to contain an entire world. The question Krasznahorkai seeks to answer is how substances of this Earth become divine—that is, not of it—merely by the force of human artistry and the processes of civilization. For anyone who has ever stared at a grand work of art and felt all else in the world strip away for a moment, this book is for you.

How German Is It? and Eclipse Fever by Walter Abish

This year was my introduction to Walter Abish, a writer who reminds me of Harry Mathews for his Oulipian tendencies, his exceedingly quirky plots, and his economical, utterly effective sentences. I never quite figured out what the “it” in the title of the first book referred to—the Holocaust, obviously, much much too obviously, but also so much more. And the latter is a tragicomedy set in Mexico (one of the most tragically comic countries on the face of the Earth) and starring . . . wait for it . . . a literary critic. Shudders.

A Schoolboy’s Diary, Berlin Stories, Selected Stories, Microscripts, The Robber by Robert Walser

A short piece I was writing for the TLS and a flight to New York City finally got me to read virtually all of the short prose of Walser that has been translated so far. It was a bracing few weeks into one of the most singular literary minds of the 20th century. Of Walser, Benjamin said something along the lines that his prose disappears behind you as you read it. Indeed, and never so much as in his short fictions.

Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle

These are Ruefle’s essays. I think I admire them most because they each have the feel of something Ruefle just put together in a spare hour or so. I mean that they feel so incidental, so stitched together with whatever happened to be at hand, so casual in their composition. That sense of casualness is very difficult to obtain, particularly when you are attempting to capture quantities as elusive as those Ruefle is pursuing here.

Personae by Sergio De La Pava

Personae is very, very far away from De La Pava’s first novel, A Naked Singularity, yet they are clearly the work of the same literary intellect. Both show the same aching honesty and the same drive toward literary artistry and genuine risk-taking. I hope De La Pava never stops taking risks as a writer.

The Hall of Uselessness by Simon Leys

To think that before this year I had never (to my knowledge) read Simon Leys. As though I had said—this year I drank my first cup of coffee, or this year I saw my first flake of snow. Leys is just as essential. After him, your literary world will not be the same. So convenient then that NYRB Classics has collected nearly 600 pages of his essays for you in one volume. What are you waiting for?

The Collected Stories by Lydia Davis

Immersing yourself in the work of a great writer is a sure way to discover that writer’s faults. Davis is a great writer, great enough that I cared to keep reading her and reading her and reading her until at long last I had seen past the brilliance to her weaknesses. So few writers can maintain a reader’s interest that long. So few can make serious enough aesthetic statements to inspire serious disagreement. And barely any can stand up to 30 years’ worth of work being consumed in one long python-like meal.

Blinding by Mircea Cartarescu

The authentic heir to Pynchon was born in Bucharest and penned the first volume of his might trilogy in the last 1990s. I hope they sell a ton of these so Archipelago manages to translate the other two or else I might have to learn Romanian.

The Aeneid by Virgil (translated by Robert Fitzgerald)

There is so much to this book—the language, the series of unforgettable set-pieces, the eternal truths about civilization, wandering, love, comradeship—but here is my favorite: Virgil does a thing I’ve only ever seen Milton do, which is to take a story whose end is already foretold—foretold because an omnipotent deity has already ensured the final outcome—to take such a story and make it ring with a riveting suspense that is perhaps the greatest argument we have that free will does exist.

Parallel Lives by Plutarch

Plutarch wanted to know why the great men are great (alas, it’s all men here), so he condensed their lives down to about 30,000 words each, telling them through the incidents that best revealed their inner character. The result is historically fascinating, frequently full of the pathos of Shakespearian tragedy, and incredibly educational. Plutarch also twins most of his lives—one Greek, one Roman—perhaps to show how much was borrowed, or how civilization develops, or just how much history repeats.

Dante’s Inferno (translated by Robert Pinsky)

Truly and indisputably the work of a mind unprecedented in the history of the world, and never to be repeated again. And Pinsky does a remarkable job with it.

Mind by John Searle

This is John Searle’s short account of Western humanity’s understanding of where consciousness comes from, starting with Descartes and ending with Searle and his contemporaries. Searle grapples with some of the biggest questions—causality, free will, idealism vs materialism—and for each he gives very well-thought-out, very original arguments.

The African Shore, Severina, The Good Cripple, The Pelcari Project, The Beggar’s Knife by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

This was the year I discovered Rodrigo Rey Rosa. He is a complete and utter minimalist, which means that you can read everything of his that’s been translated into English in a couple of days. So you could read them all maybe ten times in a month. Perhaps 100 or so times in a year. And yet you still won’t know what holds these tiny worlds so strongly together.

The World Viewed by Stanley Cavell

A philosophic inquiry into just what movies are—experiences, remembered memories, little chinks of postmodern consumer experience—and then a collection of readings of many of the major directors and films in some of the most beautiful critical language you will read. When I want to be inspired I open a page at random and read whatever it is I underlined there. I inevitably find an aphorism worthy of hours.

Siamese and Through the Night by Stig Saeterbakken

Two devastating novels by a Norwegian admired by, among many others, Karl Over Knausgaard. The first, about a blind, dying man living in a bathroom, strains toward Beckett. The second, my favorite Saeterbakken so far, is a story of suicide that moves toward horror.

Nay Rather by Anne Carson

A remarkable essay on translation, and then a beautiful demonstration of the principle of constraint used in literary translation. You probably knew that translation could amaze you, but did you think it could move you?

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: Dan Green We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Dan Green, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly...
  2. TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: David Winters We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from David Winters, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly...
  3. TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: Madeleine LaRue We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Madeleine LaRue, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly...
  4. TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: Jacob Silverman We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Jacob Silverman, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly...
  5. TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: Andrew Seal We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Andrew Seal, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly...

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4 comments to TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: Scott Esposito

  • Hyperbole and a Half
    The Woman Upstairs
    The Interestings
    Eleanor and Park

  • The Hall of Uselessness is hereby added to my to-read list!

  • Stephen

    Well, if Ingenious Gentleman made your list, but Hypothermia did not, I guess I’ll have to trust you and make the choice. For some reason I have the two books associated in my head, and I’m surprised that Hypothermia was not on your list, although I’m certain you considered it. I hope so anyway because I think it was one of the greatest recommendations you made last year. Believe that I have even more great reads to anticipate over the next few months.

  • Michael

    Thanks Scott. Any particular reason why you chose the Penguin version, and not the Dryden translation for Plutarch?

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