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

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.


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

J.C. Hallman's 10 Favorite Books of Creative Criticism

(This list is by J.C. Hallman, the author of numerous books and the editor of The Story About the Story. I asked him to compile this list because The Story About the Story is an ideal guide to “creative criticism.” It contains 31 “occasional” criticisms by both old and new writers-–examples from classic texts, and hard to find masterpieces. There are selections from D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature, Frank O’Connor’s The Lonely Voice, and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature. Other contributors span the twentieth century: Woolf, Stegner, White, Ozick, Rushdie, Gass, Heaney, Kirn, Chabon, and D’Ambrosio. A range of subjects, attitudes, and styles demonstrate the robust variety that can be brought to the critical endeavor. The book takes its name from James Wood (also a contributor), who argued that creative writers remind critics that the best criticism is “a good story about the story you are criticizing.”)

In 1910 critic J.E. Spingarn proposed the term “creative criticism” to describe what he (borrowing from Goethe) thought criticism should do: “Have emotions in the presence of a work of art and express them.” The proclamation kicked off a minor kerfuffle—Eliot and Mencken weighed in—and for a while critics considered approaching their task the way writers always had. Now, the spirit of Spingarn threatens to live again. Critics and writers have become impatient with the dry rigor of theory, and a slew of books have of late emerged with a new approach to writing about reading. Emphasizing the self as context, indulging in subjectivity, and celebrating literature instead of dissecting it, these books are a new school—or an anti-school—of literary response.



U & I by Nicholson Baker
Baker, I think, helped to resuscitate a trend in writing about literature. It begins as a study of Updike’s novels, but quickly becomes a consideration of Updike’s writing about books. However, it does not laud Updike’s writing about literature, it criticizes it. Updike, writing about Pale File (which might also belong on this list), said that all prose should be written ecstatically, but Baker points out that Updike’s writing about literature is, well, kind of dry. Of course, Baker says this ecstatically.


Lectures on Literature: Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov’s lectures are half “close reads” in a critical sense, half retellings of the stories they consider. The piece on Kafka, “‘The Metamorphosis,’” was once redone as a film–Christopher Plummer played Kafka and the whole thing was shot at my alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh. This may mark the only occasion when a work of literary criticism was turned into a movie. In his introduction, Nabokov says that readers should “fondle” details. Indeed.


Out of Sheer Rage Geoff Dyer
Dyer has made a career of listening to his subjects for the best way to approach them critically. This study on D.H. Lawrence borrows the fretting voice of Lawrence’s letters. The result is a book-length embodiment of Lawrence, a liberating indulgence in self that reveals that the very best way to approach writing about reading is not with a thesis and an argument, but with abandon.


Studies in Classic American Literature: D.H. Lawrence
This collection of essays on classic literature–itself now a classic–is dubiously titled. The effect the book tries to achieve is not studiousness at all: it is stream of consciousness criticism. In other words, only forty years or so after William James coined “stream of consciousness,” the term jumped to his brother Henry, and then into Joyce, Woolf, and others. Lawrence, in letting the reader peek over his shoulder as he reads, applies it to the critical enterprise, reminding us that any writing about literature that does not communicate the raw emotions of it, the struggle toward meaning, lacks what is essential about it.


How Proust Can Change Your Life: Alain de Botton
De Botton’s study of Proust reveals almost nothing of its author, but brings a playful spirit to what can be considered essential in regard to a consideration of the text. Incidentally, it defies Proust on this very point. How Proust Can Change Your Life is useful both as an introduction to Proust and as an introduction to the way modern literature works–and what it’s ultimately for. Traditional criticism does literature a disservice by dodging this fundamental question.


Reading Lolita in Tehran: Azar Nafisi
Nafisi is a much better critic than she is a memoirist, but it’s the blend of the two here that illustrates her central point: when literature seems to matter least, it matters most. Precisely because literature strives after universal theme, young women trapped inside a totalitarian regime can still find a way to make use of The Great Gatsby.


The Year of Reading Proust: Phyllis Rose
Rose aligns Proust’s circle of aristocrats with her own life among the sparkling literati of Key West. She comes to embody the way literature feels aimed at us–that it is about us even if it has been written at a distance and with little knowledge as to how it might apply in the future. The Year of Reading Proust is brutally honest about the difficulty of reading itself, and about the way–when it’s done well–it can leave you feeling cleaved. The book dissects you; not the other way around.


The Roads Taken: Fred Setterberg
Setterberg won the AWP award for Creative Nonfiction with this book in 1993. Each essay is an examination of biography and text–delivered in narrative context. For decades the critical community insisted that the text must be divorced from anything outside of it, but Setterberg offers a reminder that love of literature does not stop with the book. You seek out the source, the inspiration, the artifacts–and all become added to the text in turn.


How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read: Pierre Bayard
Bayard’s title says it all–and none of it. This series of essays considers the fate of modern literature, charting a gradual movement away from the active reading life and quietly considering problems of canonization. But even that makes a fun book sound boring. Just about all of the books on this list strive to defy a basic conceit in literary criticism: that “serious” criticism can’t afford to be interesting. Pssht! Bayard is fun, smart, and extremely well-read.


Rereadings: ed. Anne Fadiman
A great number of magazines-–Fourth Genre, The Believer, Tin House, The Threepenny Review, and many others–are making a point these days to reserve room for “creative criticism,” though it goes by a number of names. Fadiman’s collection of pieces that first appeared in The American Scholar went mostly unnoticed when it appeared a few years ago. Standouts in Rereadings include Jamie James rereading Conrad, Allegra Goodman rereading Austen, and Phillip Lopate rereading Stendhal.

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7 comments to J.C. Hallman's 10 Favorite Books of Creative Criticism

  • Great list! Here are some others not to miss, in my opinion:

    Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson. Brilliant experimental feminist poet on, yes, brilliant experimental feminist Emily Dickinson.

    Christa Wolf, Cassandra. The book includes four essay/lectures about the writing of her novella Cassandra — brilliant combo of memoir, criticism, and art.

    Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet. The best book there is on love and consonants. (See also Economy of the Unlost, NOX, pretty much anything she writes.)

    Marcel Proust, On Reading. His translator’s introduction to his French translation of John Ruskin’s book about reading, “Sesame and Lilies.” Also, the birth of Proust’s mature style.

    Richard Holmes, Footsteps. Literary historian now known for “Age of Wonder” on Nerval and others, memoir style.

    Virginia Woolf, Common Reader, Second Common Reader, etc.

  • One more!: Elif Batuman, “The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Literature.” Hilarious.

  • I like many of these selections, but am perplexed as to how a set of books published between the beginning of the 20th century until now constitutes a “new school”. Hallman’s efforts to make “creative criticism” the opposite of types of criticism he doesn’t have sympathy for (cf. the intro to Story About the Story, which I, as someone who very much enjoys academic criticism at is best, thought was ignorant and obnoxious, though of course someone like me would say that) seem more self-promotional than constructive.

  • Damion, thanks much for these recommendations — they all go on the list.

    Matt, anthologies famously don’t make money, and I went deep into the red to do The Story About the Story, so if it was self-promotional I must be stupid in addition to being arrogant. As to the latter point, in the introduction you cite I make the argument that the debate about “creative criticism” is really one that has taken place mostly on the critics’ side of the aisle. Indeed, what I’m saying is not so different from what Jeffrey Williams says in “The New Belletrism,” from Style, Vol. 33, No. 3, Fall, 1999. Might be up your alley.

  • Mark Olague

    Left out some of my favorite’s Leslie Fielder’s, Love and Death in the American Novel and Declan Kiberd’s Ulysses and Us. Solitary Vice: Against Reading by Mikita Brottman too. Also Enrique Vila-Matas Bartelby and CO. And yes, everything on all of our lists comes in a distant second to anything written by Roland Barthes.

  • True, Barthes is an essential godhead — my girlfriend is deeply smitten with him, and of course De Botton has acknowledged the debt as well. A couple of these I didn’t know, but will soon enough, thanks to you.

  • [...] Lists Interesting New Books — 2011 J.C. Hallman’s 10 Favorite Books of Creative Criticism Damion Searls’ Top Ten NYRB Classics Ten Essential Southern Novels What I've Read So [...]

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