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

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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

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
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  • 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: Margaret Jull Costa Now Joining Us

Legendary translator Margaret Jull Costa, who of course translated Your Face Tomorrow, as well as books by Jose Saramago, Fernando Pessoa, Eça de Queiroz, Bernardo Atxaga, and a ton more, has graciously agreed to join in on our discussion next week. Here’s how it’s going to work: I’ll have her answer a few questions about the book and the translation of it, and then everyone can pose some questions to her in the comments. So please make sure to drop by next week and get her insight on these books.

I also wanted to pull a few comments that you might have missed from the past couple weeks of discussion. Here we go:

Ginny on the use of fever throughout volume 1:

Also, I’m reminded that when one is in the process of getting sick, a fever is usually the first symptom. It feels to me in this section as if Deza is developing a fever for Tupra and his work, being drawn in and pulled under for the first time. Much like an illness, I suspect this fascination for Tupra’s work will turn in time and Deza will become less excited and enamored by the secrecy and idea of the and more appalled at what he’s gotten himself into. (By the nature of the work as it’s been described to us thus far, I sense him becoming more like the betrayer of his father than like his father.) The progression, “spear, fever, my pain, words, sleep & dreams”, reminds me of the entire progression of an illness when said in that order, as on p. 4.

Maylin on some thematic resonances with the Bond film From Russia to Love:

For those who haven’t seen the film, the opening sequence involves a man stalking Bond in a garden at night. He kills him and then just before the opening credits, it turns out that the man killed wasn’t Bond of course, but wearing a face mask to look like Bond (it’s been a training exercise). Which eeriely ties in with the title of novel and that quote on page 159 – I don’t think it’s at all unintentional that Marias chose this particular Bond film to reference.

The chronology of the narration is interesting – one step forward in real time, then back in memory. This has echoes of Proust but also Woolf (and she too was often obsessed with feet – see the many references to shoes in Jacob’s Room for example). It’s not the same style as Woolf of course, but I do think there are similarities in themes of time and memory.

Stephen on links to contemporary Spanish politics:

It’s that persistent blood stain, and the recurring image of the languid murmuring river, which connects like a thread to the past, as well as what I’ve come to learn about the context in which the novel was written. I believe the work is overshadowed, and influenced by what has come to be referred to in Spain as the pact of forgetting, wherebye Franco’s friends and foes agreed to a mutually benificial amnesty law, in effect putting the past to one side during the transition to democracy. Yet, despite these efforts to bury the past in the interest of reconciliation, many victims of Franco’s purges continue to be unearthed in mass graves.

Also, make sure to check out Andrew Seal’s post on Marias’s idiosyncratic use of language, particularly how the form of his sentences resonates with the theme of spying:

Yet he is also caught up in a world that puts unusual pressure on this skill set, a world that is, if you’ve read John Le Carré or really any spy novel other than James Bond, also about redundancy, about creating repetitions that overlap and embed themselves within one another—games within games, wheels within wheels. Spymasters in these novels always have multiple plans in place—not just contingency plans, but ancillary plans, schemes that are deployed within other schemes to ensure that if one fails, something will still be gained. (James Bond is very different; if James Bond fails, everything fails, buttons are pushed, continents die.) In the game of espionage, everyone is being watched twice or thrice over, not just by opposing sides, but twice or thrice by the same side. Wheels within wheels—this is what Marías’s writing does. It says things “just in case” you missed or didn’t quite grasp what was said before, much as, in the anecdote Deza tells about the U.S. customs officials asking the question “have you any intention of making an attempt on the life of the President” to any traveler (187-188), bureaucracy (and particularly intelligence bureaus) do many things “just in case.”

This “just in case-ness” also, I think, makes the prose frequently more pedestrian-sounding; the aim is not condensation but actual tautology. Marías says something twice not to pull the sentence in tighter to itself but to say something twice. (Marías discusses tautologies on page 176-177.) For instance, the sentence “Sleep with one eye open when you slumber” (158) which may be an actual proverb, I don’t know, is absurdly repetitive, a pleonasm, more words than necessary. Sleep and slumber are not both needed, but Marías says it this way, and I’m not sure that Bernhard, or Beckett even, or Proust or Sebald, would.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. YFTS: Spy Games and Redundancy Hi, everyone, this is Andrew Seal. Scott has asked me to pinch-hit for this week of Your Face This Spring, and it’s a great week...
  2. 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...
  3. YFTS: when you look at your life as a whole the chronological aspect gradually diminishes in importance All right, so I’m assuming that everyone who reads this post is up to page 180, also known as the end of section 1, “Fever,”...
  4. 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...
  5. YFTS: Javier Marias as Translator Turns out we’re having a bit of a translation theme this week. As I noted on Monday, Javier Marias is not only one of Spain’s...

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3 comments to YFTS: Margaret Jull Costa Now Joining Us

  • Neil

    I’m very excited to have Margaret Jull Costa join the discussion. Especially, since the translation is brought up continuously in the book, and English words and phrases are often compared to Spanish ones.

  • Neil

    I meant continually :)

  • Joy Pasco

    Before I moved on to the new book I spent some time looking at the passages about identity. I’ve a nagging feeling that the juxtaposition of the “real ” George Orwell with the fictional James Bond is important in relation to the main characters. Some details of George Orwell’s life seem particularly relevant when looking at Deza and Wheeler already.

    He wrote as George Orwell but lived his personal life as Eric Arthur Blair.
    We remember him for Animal Farm and 1984 but his livelihood was primarily earned through journalistic endeavors
    Orwell’s List published in 2003 but was written in 1949 shortly before Orwell’s death was a list of Writers, Scientists,Actors and Politicians that he thought were unsuitable to work for the Information Research Department’s Anti-Communist Propaganda unit. Not a list of people to be shot at dawn but definitely could be interpreted as a betrayal by some.

    Right now Tupra shares more traits with Ian Fleming’s James Bond to me. I am definitely watching how his character develops.

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