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

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


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Cracks in the Woodian Edifice

Daniel Miller over at Prospect offers a useful summary of the recent ups and downs of uber-critic James Wood.

It's an entertaining piece, but I think it misses the point when it crowns Wood "king" critic and speculates that his reign is ending.

First of all, I don't know that Wood was ever king of the critics. (In fact, culture being an ongoing exchange of ideas, I'm not even sure the term makes sense for anyone.) Yes, it's true that he managed to draw a lot of attention to his particular dislike for "hysterical realism," but even from the start there were plenty of people that could see the problems with his arguments.

Secondly, an even larger problem with crowning Wood "king" is that his that I still don't know exactly what Wood wants from a book, other than a vague sort of modernist realism. I believe this was what Lauren Elkin was getting at when she wrote "it's a mistake to take him for a literary critic, when he is a fine specimen of a book reviewer."

If you look at previous ascendent literary critics, there's a very clear sense of what their critical vision was. Say the names "Northrop Frye," "Roland Barthes," or "Jacques Derrida," and you'll instantly bring to mind the basic ideas that have become synonymous with each. These critics had original philosophies on literature that they expounded upon at length, and this was what let them dominate for a time.

I don't see this with Wood. In fact, it's telling that the term that has become most synonymous with James Wood doesn't define him as something he's for but as something he's against.

I don't mean this to be criticism of Wood. I do agree that he's a fine book reviewer, and I've never heard him claim to be anything more than that. This is more a criticism of the people, like the author of the Prospect article, who confuse good book reviewing with literary criticism, or, like Cynthia Ozick, who seem to want to wish Wood into being something he's not going to be.

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2 comments to Cracks in the Woodian Edifice

  • For a comprehensive look at why Wood should not be king, it’s hard to beat Edmond Caldwell.

  • Wood has good ideas, but it’s not new. He corrects in some ways Barthes, but it’s more a book reviewer than a theorist. I love the best Wood’s critics because he pays attention to the language, to his beautifulness.
    But it’s not Derrida, Barthes or Frye, that’s absolutely true. And that’s why I like so much his Work: How fiction works is a very little book without any pretentions and it shows an interesting man and his thoughts.

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