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.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:


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.


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
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  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

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.

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  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...
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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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