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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You Say

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  • Padraic: Funny, I had no idea Phillip Roth grew up in the Midwest...
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  • Bernie: Whoa now, mind your Midwestern readers there...
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  • David Long: This is a list I posted a few days ago: 25 REASONS TO THA
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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.


  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić September 15, 2014
    As Drndić reiterates throughout the novel, “Behind every name there is a story.” And Haya Tedeschi’s story is draped in death. Born to a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism and tacitly supported the Fascists in Italy, Haya was a bystander to the Holocaust. She attended movies while Jews and partisans were transported to concentration camps; she pored […]
  • The Tree With No Name by Drago Jančar September 15, 2014
    At the opening of chapter 87—the first chapter found in The Tree with No Name—Janez Lipnik finds himself up a tree, shoeless, and lost in the Slovenian countryside. He makes his way to a house where he is taken in by a woman teacher who is waiting for her lover, a soldier. It becomes clear we are at the height of World War II. Soon after, we follow Lipnik […]
  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
    Here, at the midpoint of his narrative, Bernhard, the affectless and purposeless protagonist of "The Unseen," experiences existential near-emancipation at dusk. This retreat toward obscurity in terse, direct language—thematic and stylistic markers of each work in the collection—comes immediately after Bernhard’s sister mentions her plans to enterta […]
  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
    In his new book of essays, Berlin Now, Peter Schneider reveals himself as a gnarled Cold Warrior who has been stricken with many of the maladies common to his generation. With the specter of Communism exorcized, his new enemy is Islam. The book is a collection of short interlocking pieces introducing Anglophone readers to Berlin; it is not being published in […]
  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
    “It seemed that the [New Yorker] story—which was in part the result of my dealing with the reception of my novel—had been much more widely received than the novel itself,” says the narrator of Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04. Perhaps this narrator is Lerner himself—at one point he describes 10:04, within its own pages, as “neither fiction nor nonfiction but […]
  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting is a masterful work structured around Robert Smithson’s earthwork “The Spiral Jetty.” Olsen’s novel is comprised of three narrations, written each by a separate member of a family. The husband’s and wife’s texts progress in opposite directions across the book, with each page divided among these two inverted texts; though […]
  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
    In The Ants, we receive a study of existence through ants. That is, there are ants everywhere, ants substituted in every segment of the landscape, yet their behavior seems to reveal something altogether human. Too human. The ants are crushed and disappointed. They are warm and many. They are involved in gang wars and live inside carrot cake. The unique quali […]

A Reading List from Mark McGurl’s The Program Era

One of the truly valuable things about Mark McGurl's study of the influence of creative writing programs on American literature is simply the breadth of reading that went into it, ranging from the iconic to the obscure. McGurl exhumes a number of novels–some by men and women better known for other things (poetry, teaching, university administration)–that rarely see the light of scholarship, much less general reading. Some of these books might even be a little tough to track down–but I guess that's what we have the internet for.

I just spent some time running through the index and the footnotes, trying to assemble something like a reading list from the books mentioned (most of which are given at least a couple of paragraphs of analysis and commentary), and I put together a fairly long (but not entirely complete) list of books he mentions (unfortunately, the book does not provide its own bibliography). The list is far too long to post here, so I've made it available as a Google Document (apologies for the very simple formatting). I have also included a number of the works of scholarship and analysis which he uses and references–some of them would also be worth tracking down if you feel inclined.

Please note that McGurl's use of these books doesn't mean that he found them uniformly enjoyable, so don't take this quite the same way as a list of recommendations. Hopefully, though, you will find out about some new books, some of which may be very good indeed.

In particular, McGurl has a little bit of fun working with the "campus novel" genre, and I'll put a few of his selections here:

  • The Big U, by Neal Stephenson.
  • Japanese by Spring, by Ishmael Reed.

  • Moo, by Jane Smiley.

  • Straight Man, by Richard Russo.
  • "Westward the Course of Empire Makes Its Way," by David Foster Wallace (from The Girl with the Curious Hair).

  • The Dean's December, by Saul Bellow.

  • The Groves of Academe, by Mary McCarthy.

  • Blue Angel, by Francine Prose.
  • The Disguises of Love, by Robie Macauley.

  • Galatea 2.2, by Richard Powers.

  • The Professor of Desire, by Philip Roth.
  • The Handmaid of Desire, by John L'Heureux.

  • Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov.

  • The Professors Like Vodka, by Harold Loeb.

He leaves out Pictures from an Institution, by Randall Jarrell, but you shouldn't–read that one first.

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. The Program Era, by Mark McGurl There have now been a few, mostly positive, reviews of Mark McGurl’s book The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing...
  2. Look Into a Translator’s Reading List The Seminary Co-Op has an interesting piece by translator Robert Chandler, who (along with his wife, Elizabeth Chandler, and Olga Meerson) has recently published a...
  3. The Obama Reading List Yesterday I noted that a prominent member of the Turkish government gave President Obama a copy of the novel A Mind at Peace, recently published...
  4. Mark Haddon Mark Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time) has a new novel. If you’re interested, the Guardian has a lengthy excerpt. ...
  5. Contra James Wood’s List Making the rounds recently is a list that James Wood published years ago in The Guardian, where he enumerated a large number of books that...

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2 comments to A Reading List from Mark McGurl’s The Program Era

  • Judith Baumel

    Great List.
    If you can expand to include non-Americans, then the classic Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis is still worth reading; as is The Tale of a Dog: From the Diaries and Letters of a Texan Bankruptcy Judge by Lars Gustafsson; The Crazed by Ha Jin; and Beauty by Zadie Smith.

  • John Williams’s Stoner is worth adding. It’s a campus novel set in the first half of the twentieth century; as such–and because it’s deeply serious rather than comic–it’s got a very different feel than the books I’ve read from the list above.

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