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

New Books
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 […]

YFTS: Cleaning House

Time permitting, I’m going to do a summary post of vol 2 the way I did one for vol 1, but for now I’d like to add a few more thoughts that I didn’t get into the earlier post about our final slice of vol 2.

On page 288, I found it very noteworthy that Deza draws a comparison to Wheeler when Tupra gives him his comb back:

He handed it back to me. Unlike Wheeler, he hadn’t taken the precaution of holding it up to the light to see if it was clean when I gave it to him . . .

This brief image doesn’t simply send us back to Wheeler but also back to that whole wild scene to end vol 1 with the helicopter brushing Wheeler and Deza (which is why Wheeler needs to borrow Deza’s comb). But first of all, let’s deal with Wheeler vis a vis Tupra.

Clearly Wheeler acts as a sort of father-figure for Deza when he’s on the British island; he is sort of the presiding patriarch of vol 1, and after reading vol 2 I feel as though Tupra acts in a similar capacity for that book. (And later, on page 308, Tupra is directly compared to Deza’s father.) Clearly, Wheeler and Tupra represent different facets of the image of a patriarch, perhaps in line with the theme of each book; perhaps they are in a way fathering the face that Deza will display to the world “tomorrow,” once this adventure in England has come to a close for him.

But to get back to the final scene of vol 1: I find it interesting that each book ends with a bravado scene of disarray and violence, and that Marias is at pains to link them there with that reference on page 288. Seen from this perspective, the two volumes overlay rather well, with Wheeler/Tupra acting in similar capacity in each, each volume concluding with a bizarre scene that touches Deza deeply, and then there being a final period of reflection that gives on to the following volume.

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 have come up with a theory about. First, let’s recall that these are in fact the covers that Marias chose to grace these three books. (Unlike the vast majority of authors, he was given the honor of being allowed to choose his books’ covers, and thus we can consider them part of the overall composition.) So let’s have a look at them together:

What I notice on the first is that long open road: we are just starting out on a long journey, and we are looking down the front of a motorcycle, a vehicle that typically conveys isolation, even something of a rebel image. There is still all that road ahead of us to travel, and we are perhaps adrift in a foreign land. It brings to mid Deza, alone and in Britain and unsure of where he is headed.

Then in the second image we see a train powering toward us under a full head of steam. We can hardly see the track at all here; the frame is instead taken up by that big, chugging train, which impresses us with its force and dedication to steam forward right past us. If we are on this train we are not thinking of where we are headed; no, we are simply being taken along for the ride, and we concern ourselves with our own personal matters, or perhaps admiring the countryside that we are passing through. It is an image that implies that Deza is no longer so concerned with the path he has chosen but rather with the people and things he finds as he is being drawn down that path.

And lastly, we see an image of an airplane that I believe had just landed. It is almost the opposite of that first image: instead of the front of the plane we see its back side, and the vehicle itself obscures any sight of the road (in this case a body of water) that may or may not lie before it. We have set down and our journey is ended, and we will disembark separate from the rest of the people we have traveled with (perhaps across the English channel and back again on the Continent).

Taken together, the images constitute to me three different phases of a long journey, beginning, middle, and end. They are perhaps emblematic of Deza’s journey, representing the mood and spirit of each phase of the journey that he undertakes in the books whose cover they grace.

And lastly, here’s a very YFT-esque news tidbit indicating how far this country has gone to embrace fascistic beliefs in our lust for security. Wheeler would be appalled.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. 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...
  2. YFTS: The Hardest Part About Fictions Is Not Creating But Maintaining Them A couple of things I wanted to point out from the first 20 or so pages of the segment of Fever and Spear that we're...
  3. 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...
  4. YFTS: And Now We Venture Into the Ladies' Room, and Into the Mind of a Vengeful God I'm sure everyone was very tickled by the restroom scene--I know I was. In a very broad sort of way, this scene made the book...
  5. YFTS: Some Thoughts on the First 90 Pages of Your Face Tomorrow and the Perils of Talking Now that we've gotten our feet wet with the first 90 pages or so of Your Face Tomorrow, some initial thoughts. For those who aren't...

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