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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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

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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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    Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedfor […]
  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
    Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Gr […]
  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
    New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, wa […]
  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
    This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countr […]
  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
    The Fall of Language in the Age of English stirred up debate upon its publication in Japan in 2008, and it’s possible it will do so in the U.S. with its arrival in Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter's translation. In their introduction, Yoshihara and Winters Carpenter, point out that Japanese reviewers accused Mizumura of being a jingoist, an e […]
  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
    Another View demonstrates exciting potential in translation study and praxis. It is especially significant in deconstructing assumptions about fluency and linguistic identity. The author makes some persuasive arguments for considering and even preferring non-native translation of texts, the most controversial of which is the possibility that linguistic compe […]
  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
    Despite South Korea having the kind of vibrant literary scene you'd expect from a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we're still not exactly inundated with English translations of South Korean fiction. Given this dearth, Dalkey Archive Press's Library of Korean Literature series, twenty five titles published in collab […]
  • B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal by J.C. Hallman March 14, 2015
    here’s a conspicuous history of books that simply should not work: Books like U & I by Nicholson Baker, a book-length exercise in “memory criticism,” where Baker traces Updike’s influence on his own writing life while studiously not actually re-reading any of Updike’s books. Or books like Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer’s book that procrastinates away from […]
  • The Valerie Miles Interview March 14, 2015
    The idea was to uncover the secret life of these texts, why do their creators consider them their best work? What’s the clandestine, the underground, the surreptitious meaning or attachment? Where’s the kernel, the seed from which a body of work grew, what the driving obsession? Is it something sentimental, something technical, maybe even something spiritual […]
  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
    Look up at the sky, or down into the ocean, and what color do you see? We see blue, but not Homer—he never once employs the term throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, famously calling the sea "wine-dark" and the heavens "bronze." Neither did the Greek philosopher Xenophanes say blue—he described the rainbow as having only three colors. Th […]

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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