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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Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

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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

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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.


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    Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedfor […]
  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
    Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Gr […]
  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
    New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, wa […]
  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
    This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countr […]
  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
    The Fall of Language in the Age of English stirred up debate upon its publication in Japan in 2008, and it’s possible it will do so in the U.S. with its arrival in Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter's translation. In their introduction, Yoshihara and Winters Carpenter, point out that Japanese reviewers accused Mizumura of being a jingoist, an e […]
  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
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  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
    Despite South Korea having the kind of vibrant literary scene you'd expect from a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we're still not exactly inundated with English translations of South Korean fiction. Given this dearth, Dalkey Archive Press's Library of Korean Literature series, twenty five titles published in collab […]
  • B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal by J.C. Hallman March 14, 2015
    here’s a conspicuous history of books that simply should not work: Books like U & I by Nicholson Baker, a book-length exercise in “memory criticism,” where Baker traces Updike’s influence on his own writing life while studiously not actually re-reading any of Updike’s books. Or books like Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer’s book that procrastinates away from […]
  • The Valerie Miles Interview March 14, 2015
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  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
    Look up at the sky, or down into the ocean, and what color do you see? We see blue, but not Homer—he never once employs the term throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, famously calling the sea "wine-dark" and the heavens "bronze." Neither did the Greek philosopher Xenophanes say blue—he described the rainbow as having only three colors. Th […]

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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