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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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.

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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.


  • [[there.]] by Lance Olsen December 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen is the author of two recent works, [[there.]] and Theories of Forgetting (FC2). The second presents three narratives in a clearly fictional mode while the first offers day-to-day thoughts on living in another country. We rightly suspect that any artist’s memoir or diary ought to be viewed as written with a prospective public in mind, no matter ho […]
  • Noir and Nihilism in True Detective December 15, 2014
    "It’s just one story. The oldest. . . . Light versus dark." Spanning 8 episodes between January and March of 2014, HBO’s runaway hit True Detective challenged the status quo of contemporary crime drama. The show has been widely celebrated for its philosophy, complexity, and visual aesthetic. Co-starring actors Matthew McConaughey as Rustin "Ru […]
  • The Colonel’s World December 15, 2014
    Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born 1940) is considered by many the living Iranian novelist, a perennial Nobel Prize candidate. Dowlatabadi wrote The Colonel some thirty years ago, because in his own words he had been “afflicted.” The subject forced him to sit at the desk and write nonstop for two years. “Writing The Colonel I felt a strong sense of indignation and pa […]
  • Mr Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn by Alessandro Baricco December 15, 2014
    Alessandro Baricco’s well-crafted, elegant prose seems as though it should create the impression of distance, or of abstraction; instead, the reader of Mr. Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn becomes wholly implicated and immersed, drawn into a dreamy and idiosyncratic world that blurs the division between reader, character and writer. As readers, we expect that th […]
  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash December 15, 2014
    "The paan shop leads to the opening of a tunnel, full of the creatures of the city, and the tears and spit of a fakir." In a single opening line, Uday Prakash sets the scene for the politically incisive, yet intimately human stories of The Walls of Delhi (translated brilliantly from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum). Lest the fakir suggest otherwise, t […]
  • The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation December 15, 2014
    In a speech reprinted in the book, Heim makes a self-deprecating joke about whether the life of a translator is worth reading: “What does a translator do? He sits and translates!” The Man Between serves as a book-length retort by laying bare all the things Heim did: these include persuading the academy that translation is a scholarly (in addition to a creati […]
  • The Prabda Yoon Interview December 15, 2014
    Yes, I think people are not comfortable anymore to write in this straightforward, traditional way, especially the younger, more progressive writers. So it’s interesting—you have social commentary, and you also get a little bit of structural experiment. You have themes that are very, very Thai. I’m actually very interested to see what new writers will come up […]
  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck December 15, 2014
    For Jenny Erpenbeck, no life is lived in an indisputable straight line. Which is why, in her new novel (new in English, though published in 2012 as Aller Tage Abend) she approaches the narrative as a series of potential emotional earthquakes, some which take place, some which might have taken place, all of which reveal something of how political turbulence p […]
  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
    Once, at a writers symposium, William Howard Gass remarked that to substitute the page for the world is a form of revenge for the recognition that "you are, in terms of the so-called world, an impotent nobody." There is inarguably no contemporary writer of American stock in whose work one might locate a more ambitious war of attrition between innov […]
  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
    Luiselli’s first novel, Faces in the Crowd, translated into fluid English by Christina MacSweeney, is the perfect illustration of this attitude toward fiction writing. Narrated in short sections spanning multiple storylines and the better part of one hundred years, it uses "[d]eep excavations" to expose the empty spaces in two lives, those of a you […]

Two by John Williams / Butcher’s Crossing (1960) / Stoner (1965)

Bc

Given that my literary tastes run towards big, ambitious, hyperactive novels, it wouldn’t seem that Butcher's Crossing and Stoner, the second and third novels (of four) from John Williams, would both be in my all-time favorite list (top twenty-five*): both are written in a hardworking, "plain" style–beautifully written in that style, if that makes any sense–and tell quiet, introspective stories of loners.
    Butcher’s Crossing must have been one of the first literary or "revisionist" westerns (Oakley Hall’s Warlock came out in 1958), one that operated without all the cliches and predictability of the genre. (And speaking as someone who has a couple hundred American westerns on DVD and who can’t get enough of the genre, I mean this in no way disparagingly; but like directors John Ford, Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher, Delmer Daves, Henry Hathaway, Raoul Walsh, Sam Peckinpah, etc, Williams saw that the possibilities of the western to exceed the thin ground that the genre usually covered were worth exploring.) Anyway it tells the story of Will Andrews, who leaves Boston to head west to have a poetic communion with the wilderness, and who gets caught up with a group of hunters heading out to an area where, years before, one of the men had found what he thought to be a secret buffalo grazing ground where they could get ten thousand hides, easy. Williams investigates so many aspects of human loneliness and manhood and madness and Ahab-like obsession—as well as the myth of the old west and speculation that ties in well with the current American economic crisis— and does it all with great intensity and beauty: “When he lifted his head he could see the ground in front of him littered with the mounded corpses of buffalo, and the remaining herd—apparently little diminished—circling almost mechanically now, in a kind of dumb rhythm, as if impelled by the regular explosions of Miller’s gun.” When Will Andrews gets his first bathing “since last August,” Williams’ description of it is just as beautiful and realistic and disgusting as the passages detailing the hiding and gutting and stripping of the dead buffalo.

Stoner-john-williams-paperback-cover-art
    William Stoner is the focus of the 1965 novel. He's the child of farmers who attends school and goes on to have a quiet life in academia. The crushing sadness that pervades—with a few well-intentioned exceptions—every page of this novel is impressive; it’s almost beyond comparison: “He carried this feeling of loss with him throughout the graduation exercises; when his name was spoken and he walked across the platform to receive a scroll from a man faceless behind a soft gray beard, he could not believe his own presence, and the roll of parchment in his hand had no meaning. He could only think of his mother and father sitting stiffly and uneasily in the great crowd.” That’s from page twenty-two—Stoner can cut through huge swaths of time in a sentence or two, as we follow William Stoner from a boy until he dies, nearly three hundred pages later. That Williams was able to encompass not only every aspect of Stoner’s life, but also to so profoundly investigate the loneliness and the sadness (and the happiness!) of his life in such a short book is stunning. I’ll say it: Williams’ writing is absolutely perfect. You know how every ad for whatever mass-market crap or generic brainless thriller or vampire romance mentions how it’s “impossible to put down”? Well for those of us who would find those books impossible to pick up in the first place, I found Butcher’s Crossing and Stoner impossible to put down, to the detriment of my sleep cycle, as I read them back-to-back. (Followed then by Williams’ first novel, Nothing but the Night (1948), which is fairly forgettable, and his last, Augustus (1973), which won the National Book Award, and is worth reading but is nowhere near the inhuman masterpieces Butcher’s Crossing and Stoner. He also wrote two books of poetry which are impossible to find.)
    Anyway, just thought since I was filling in here at Conversational Reading I would blather on about some more books which I find extremely worthwhile and important and which should be read by more people. I don’t think I’ve really done them justice here at all but hopefully my enthusiasm will show through . . .

*Not that I keep a list like that or anything, but just roughing it as an idea I can’t imagine these two wouldn’t make it if I did put that list together.

 


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2 comments to Two by John Williams / Butcher’s Crossing (1960) / Stoner (1965)

  • Barbara

    Following links, I stumbled upon this blog for the first time today. It must have been foreordained, because I just discoverd John Williams a few weeks ago. I read Stoner straight through and have just begun Butcher’s Crossing. I have already re-read passages of Stoner several times. It is a beautiful book, everything I look for in literature. I feel an added connection to it; I too grew up in rural western Missouri, though books were a huge portion of my family experience, the descriptions of Stoner’s family rang true. I love it when I find someone who is talking about books I love.

  • fasdf

    好秘书 我爱皮肤 中国公文网near the inhuman masterpieces Butcher’s Crossing and Stoner. He also wrote two books of poetry which are impossible to find.)
    Anyway, just thought since

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