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

Shop though these links = Support this site


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.


  • [[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 […]

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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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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