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.


  • A Legacy by Sybille Bedford March 15, 2015
    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
    Another View demonstrates exciting potential in translation study and praxis. It is especially significant in deconstructing assumptions about fluency and linguistic identity. The author makes some persuasive arguments for considering and even preferring non-native translation of texts, the most controversial of which is the possibility that linguistic compe […]
  • 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
    The idea was to uncover the secret life of these texts, why do their creators consider them their best work? What’s the clandestine, the underground, the surreptitious meaning or attachment? Where’s the kernel, the seed from which a body of work grew, what the driving obsession? Is it something sentimental, something technical, maybe even something spiritual […]
  • 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 […]

YFTS: A Dance to the Music of Time

(We continue our reader responses to Your Face Tomorrow with Maylin Scott, who made quite a few comments during out read. Here she talks about the pivotal scene where Deza stands up and dances, and how it refracts throughout all three volumes of YFT.)

Dark Back of TImeHaving now finished Your Face Tomorrow (and read All Souls and Dark Back of Time for good measure–fascinating and complimentary reads both), I keep coming back to one pivotal section that seems to encapsulate many of the resonating thoughts and themes of the novel.

The scene takes place right in the middle of YFT (Volume II pages 185-201) which I don’t think is at all coincidental, and it is the one where Deza looks out his window at his neighbour dancing with the two women, then starts to dance himself, eventually realizing the trio are in turn observing him and copying his dance with the newspaper. They signal to Deza to join them and he, embarrassed, backs away. At first I was in the spell of how breathtakingly beautiful the image was–that section contains some of the best writing in the whole novel–but I think it serves a much more important narrative function. And it’s all to do with the fact that Deza refuses to join in the dance.

As the novel progressed, I’m sure I wasn’t the only reader frustrated (but still intrigued) by Deza’s character–his brooding aloofness and apathy, both in his initial response to his job (and its possible sinister implications) but also particularly in his relationships with women. Marias never lets us glimpse Deza when his love life is flourishing. In YFT, he’s separated from Luisa and we don’t get a sense of how they met or their early courtship and marriage. In All Souls, he is brooding over the absence of his lover Claire and the eventual end of that affair. And there couldn’t be a colder, more dispassionate and mechanical sexual encounter than the one Deza has with Perez Nuix, made all the more sad and horrifying by Deza’s competitive obsession with whether Tupra has also slept with her. Marias has created a main character who muses intelligently and philosophically over life but stands outside it as a reluctant participant. And this dancing scene is a crucial narrative turning point. Deza is invited to join in, to participate, to engage with his neighbours and he refuses. He needs to remain the passive outsider. But this is also the midway point of the novel when Deza turns from being the observer–of the clients he makes reports on, of Tupra’s horrifying actions with the sword in the washroom, and his subsequent viewing of Tupra’s videotapes–to becoming the active instigator of violence in the episode with Custardoy, forcing him to act in a way contrary to his previous beliefs as to what he is morally and physically capable of.

So why does Marias create this distant outsider? This personality suits Deza for his spying duties, but it curiously distances the reader from engaging more emotionally with the character. Reading Dark Back of Time–a sort of philosophical meditation on the blend of fiction/reality that resulted in Marias’s life as result of having published All Souls–illuminated a number of aspects of Marias’ style and intellectual concerns, a key one being the fine line between fiction and reality, or the perception of how closely they can become intertwined, mostly through strange coincidences. (These can be as slim or amusingly innocuous as the one experienced by myself–reading in Dark Back of Time about Melville’s treatment at the hands of his stingy publishers while in a hotel room located on Melville St .) Marias likes to explore how literature, consciously or not, affects people’s subsequent actions and in YFT, he seems to be challenging his readers to put themselves in Deza’s position in terms of being either a passive observer of the novel, or to actively engage with its ideas (as we’ve been doing in this forum), and let it continue to influence and reverberate through your own life. And there couldn’t be a better metaphor for this notion than inviting one to dance with a newspaper, to dance with words as your partner.

A Dance to the Music of TimeThis “dance” is also a dance with literary tradition, fascinated as Marias is with notions of time and memory, both historical and cultural. Readers here have compared him in style to Sebald, Bernhard and Proust in particular. But where Proust takes a submerged moment in time and, from a different temporal perspective, examines how that memory can change, Marias almost suspends time. He freeze frames the episode, has his narrator walk around it, ponder it from all angles, and then turns the projector on again so that the event loops concurrently alongside the narrative present, with frequent inescapable incursions into it. As such, I’d like to suggest that, thematically at least (and definitely not in terms of writing style), the novel that YFT reminded me the most of is Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, though this comparison didn’t hit me until I’d finished the book. Marias’s novel is a dance with the music of time, or a dance with time itself, with an accompanying narrative movement and use of language that is graceful, sensual and elegant. And so back to that key episode and the end of that section and Deza’s summation of himself: “That is what I will be, what was and has never been. That is, I will be time, which has never been seen, and which no one ever can see.”

But Marias has made us see, giving us an imaginative vision of time in this extraordinary novel.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. YFTS: The Perils of Dancing So a few more comments about last week's section, pp. 122 - 201. I'd like to draw everyone's attention to page 194, which I think...
  2. YFTS: Turning Points The first thing I'd like to remark about on our current section of Your Face Tomorrow (we're in Week 13) is this was the first...
  3. YFTS: A Confession, Deza's Descent, and Shadow I must begin this with a confession: as I suspect many of you have already, I went drastically ahead of schedule in my YFTS reading....
  4. YFTS: Cleaning House I also think that now is an appropriate time to talk about the covers, which, frankly, at first mystified me but now I believe I...
  5. YFTS: The Redemption of Sympathy In my reading, the point of Deza recalling that awful story his father told him about Ronda--where the fascists baited a man like a bull...

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