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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 Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

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. 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...
  5. 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. ...

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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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