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.


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  • 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
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  • 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
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  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck December 15, 2014
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  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
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  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
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I Wouldn’t Have Guessed That

Lev Grossman talking about reviewing books is a little like that 50 Shades of Grey person talking about bring an author. Here, Grossman talks about how he picks books for review:

But then there’s the signal – that delicious, delicious signal. People often ask me how I choose books to review. There’s no simple answer; also no especially interesting answer. I review books if they do something I’ve never seen done before; or if I fall in love with them; or if they shock me or piss me off or otherwise won’t leave me alone; if they alter the way my brain works; if I can’t stop thinking about them; if for whatever reason I absolutely have to tell people about them.

I haven’t always done it that way. Early on in my career I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I thought other people would want me to review, and what I thought other people would fall in love with, and then reviewing those books. But the truth is I was just guessing, and when I did I generally guessed wrong. Over time I retreated to the following position: I am a book-loving human being, and if I love something, then some other book-loving human elsewhere will probably love it too.

I don’t doubt that Grossman follows his heart, but c’mon, he’s following his heart within a very limited range of choices. Just look at his top 10 list from 2011 and try to find a book that wasn’t published by a major American publisher and wreathed with praise from just about every dependable organ of book reviewing in the United States.

I bring this up because immediately before this Grossman talks about the 30 or 40 books that arrive at Time magazine every day, no doubt many from worthy small presses that would die for the kind of attention Time could give. And this is to my point—I’m sure Grossman is a honest, decent guy, but the PR push (read: dollars spent) that a publisher puts behind a book, plus the fact that Time has certain audience expectations that must be met (and Grossman’s periodical isn’t unique here by a long shot), means that those sorts of books have no chance of being covered by this kind of a publication.

I’m fine if Grossman wants to go around saying he’s a book reviewer, but let’s not mistake what he’s doing here: in most cases he’s functioning as an adjunct of a publisher’s marketing department, essentially adding whatever institutional and personal authority he has to the marketing push for a book that has almost certainly been acclaimed 10 times over by “reviewers” that are similarly empowered. In other words, what I’m saying is there is no need for a Lev Grossman review of Freedom, whereas there could be a plausible justification for a Lev Grossman review of My Two Worlds. Using Time magazine to help push a book such as the latter would be to help literary culture emerge from the morass of dull, mainstream novels that it seems destined to remain mired in perpetually, whereas using Time to push the former is only to perpetuate a system of mediocrity.

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5 comments to I Wouldn’t Have Guessed That

  • Bill

    Of course TIME and other major publications are merely “an adjunct of a publisher’s marketing department”. I wonder why people aren’t sick of it. As soon as it makes the pages of TIME, it’s on Fresh Air, Krasny’s “Forum” interviews the author, then it’s on Tavis Smiley, next is “To the Best of Our Knowledge”…. by then I am totally sick of hearing about it. Why can’t the whitebread liberals, stuck in this echo chamber, demand more? I’ll tell you why – because they don’t really care, they don’t love books, they just wanna be hip ;ole all their friends who will surely ask “Have you read…?”

  • Sawn

    This is a similar theme to the Atlantic article about all the hype and pr surrounding “that baseball novel”, which allowed it to reach best seller status and had readers thinking it ust be good if everyone is talking about it. Last week it even ended up on top of The Beievers readers poll of best works of 2011. I am convinced only because everyone fell for the hype. I almost did myself, but took a step back before I hit ok on my amazon purchase, and thought “wait if it ends up actually being so great, I can always borrow it from te library 4 blocks away!” I fell or stupid pr a couple times last year – We The Animals and The Family Fang – both also kinda shitty books (Fang moreso) that made it to the Believer’s readers poll.
    My local indy bookseller is bringing me a copy of Naked Singularity – this website sure as heck had better be steering me right! :)

  • This can never be overstated. George RR Martin blurbed Lev. Logrolling Lev named A DANCE WITH DRAGONS as his #1 book in 2011.

    http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2101344_2101086_2101104,00.html

    Adjunct of a publisher’s marketing department is an understatement.

  • Lev Grossman’s heart sings to him songs of career-minded opportunism. I haven’t read more of 50 Shades of Grey than the online excerpts, but I have read The Magicians. They are not all that dissimilar.

    It’s amusing that Grossman’s rejection of “hatchet jobs” (actual criticism) and his novels are both grounded in his assertions on becoming an adult.

  • [...] Esposito appropriately enough questions how candid Grossman is being, pointing out that his sinecure at Time necessarily constrains [...]

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