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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.

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.


  • 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 […]

On That Creative Criticism School Thing . . .

At The Valve there's an interesting discussion of J.C. Hallman's essay on launching a school of creative criticism.

Among others, Zak Smith, of Gravity's Rainbow illustration fame, is there in the comments:

If you pick up “The Second Coming” read it and don’t like it, that’s fine. That is an acceptable response to a piece of literature.

If, then, you take a class, learn all about Yeats and meter and symbolism, and then re-read it and then suddenly claim to like it–that’s bad.

That’s posing. That’s like saying you didn’t used . . . continue reading, and add your comments

How Critical Movements Are Born

One of the parts of Issue 17 of TQC that I’m most excited about is our serialization of JC Hallman’s adapted intro to his anthology of lit crit, The Story About the Story. The moment I read it, I knew this was just the kind of statement on good criticism I’d been looking for, and, collectively, me and the other editors were so hyped about what Chris wrote that we dedicated our editorial to a response.

Chris is currently blogging about his book at Tin House’s website, where he’s expanding on why he wanted to . . . continue reading, and add your comments

An Advertisement for Himself

As far as self-promotion disguised as general-theory-of-the-novel goes, Lev Grossman could learn a thing or two from Jonathan Franzen, Ben Marcus, Tom Wolfe [pdf], and David Foster Wallace [also pdf], because his entry in that genre is distinctly lackluster. Actually, before he learns how to write one of those little exercises, he might want to refresh himself on literary history, aesthetic terminology, and logic. His essay "Good Books Don't Have to Be Hard" in The Wall Street Journal is about the literary equivalent of a Glenn Beck broadcast: "I'm sorry, but I love the novel. And I fear for it."
Here's how he actually begins:

A good story is a dirty secret that we all share. It's what makes guilty pleasures so pleasurable, but it's also what makes them so guilty. A juicy tale reeks of crass commercialism and cheap thrills. We crave such entertainments, but we despise them. Plot makes perverts of us all.

Straw man? Why stop there? Let's create a straw galaxy. A straw galaxy where smart people look down their nose at you if you watch, say, The Wire, or read Roberto Bolaño. "Oh that Don DeLillo," they say, "he's just too plotty for me. Too many, you know, consecutive related events."

In Grossman's straw galaxy, there is, however, A New Hope: "If there's a key to what the 21st-century novel is going to look like, this is it: the ongoing exoneration and rehabilitation of plot." And he sees this Hope from his vantage as a critic and semi-lauded novelist, and offers us a valuable lesson for why it must be so: "There was once a reason for turning away from plot, but that rationale has outlived its usefulness… Where did this conspiracy come from in the first place—the plot against plot? I blame the Modernists." And then he lists a number of Classic Modernist Works, the majority of which are inarguably, unequivocally and extremely self-evidently plot-driven in a classic nineteenth-century sense: "The Age of Innocence,'… 'A Passage to India,'… 'Lady Chatterley's Lover,' 'The Sun Also Rises,' 'A Farewell to Arms'… 'The Professor's House,' 'The Great Gatsby,' 'Arrowsmith' and 'An American Tragedy.'" Oh yes, that Edith Wharton, Patron of the Plot-Slayers.

Continue reading An Advertisement for Himself

“The paradigm of certain disappointments”

When I was in New York last week, I saw Gary Indiana read from his strange, rebarbative, yet oddly compelling new novel The Shanghai Gesture at 192 Books, and in subsequent days I read through the volume of reviews, essays, and articles that he published last year, Utopia's Debris. As I read, I found myself returning again and again to the following collectible line from its early pages:

Our representations of ourselves are even more selective and partial than our portraiture of other people.

It comes from an obituary appreciation . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Levi Discovers an Echo Chamber

Levi gets a little disillusioned about professional book reviewing:

Much about my attitude towards the Book Review has changed since that weekend in May 2005 when I began this pursuit. For one thing, I knew none of the editors or critics who wrote for the Book Review back then, whereas by now I have met or corresponded with many of the NYTBR regulars and staffers. I was completely unaware, back then, of the hyperactive and highly competitive internal world inhabited by professional literary critics, too many of whom (I have now learned) are more concerned with impressing their . . . continue reading, and add your comments

When You’re Belated, Make Lemonade

I've been reading Harold Bloom's classic work The Anxiety of Influence, and I've come upon an odd quote. It's the kind of thing that sounds so right that I really want to like it, but I'm not entirely sure I understand what it means.

So, I'm throwing it out to the crowd. Anyone want to take a shot at unpacking this?

Cultural belatedness is never acceptable to a major writer, though Borges made a career out of exploiting his secondariness.

Conrad on English: Throwing Mud At A Wall

Ever since I read William H. Gass's essay in the most recent Review of Contemporary Fiction, I've wondered about a remark he made:

Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad agreed that writing in English, as contrasted with writing in French, was like throwing mud at a wall, but I think that most words are closets crammed with suits shirts socks and dresses, panties hats and gloves, and I see words dressing themselves in the wardrobes of others, first of all picking out this or that sense and then asking: will this skirt go with that blouse? does this . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Post-Colonial Criticism: Cherry-Picking Evidence?

At The Valve they're discussing whether post-colonial criticism "assumes its conclusions even before it begins."

The responses so far seem to amount to "yeah, so what?" But lots of interesting variants of that. Several, for instance, are making the valid point that this is what all criticism (and in fact all scholarship) does. There's also the point that:

If *all* postcolonial criticism means is to locate effects of imperialism in culture, then we clearly have no conclusions to begin with.  We simply have objects of study.  I don’t think it’s a controversial idea to be open to possible . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Pro Close Reading

The blogosphere is fun for lots and lots of reasons. But one of the best is that occasionally, by virtue of some monkey-pounding-typewriter law of probability, you will encounter two posts on the same day that are almost perfect complements.

Thus, Wyatt Mason opines (quite correctly):

Criticism that doesn’t read closely isn’t literary criticism. If it’s anything, it’s personal essay—a perfectly admirable category of thing, and a perfectly reasonable form in which a writer can write about reading as an experience—but not literary criticism.

And the the Literary Saloon rages (equally correctly):

We like our reviews to . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Women’s Writing

In The New York Times, Katie Roiphe offers a good review of Elaine Showalter's new historio-critical volume of women American writers, A Jury of Her Peers.

Roiphe seems concerned that Showalter is a little too caught up in categorizing over critiquing, and she makes some worthwhile points along the way:

As Elizabeth Bishop put it, “art is art and to separate writings, paintings, musical compositions, etc. into two sexes is to emphasize values that are not art.” Showalter handles these rebels by corralling them into special subchapters with titles like “Dissenters.” One of the . . . continue reading, and add your comments