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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 […]

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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