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.


  • 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 […]

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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