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.


  • A Legacy by Sybille Bedford March 15, 2015
    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 […]

Long Live the Long Essay

I’m thrilled that places like Byliner and Atavist are trying to bring back the long essay, and here’s a head’s up that you will be hearing more about this in the near future. I and a fellow contributor to The Quarterly Conversation will soon be publishing the first of what I hope to be a series of long essays on important literary critical questions.

Although I think it’s interesting just what we now consider too long to print in a magazine. I was just reading U & I, an approximately 40,000-word essay that was originally slated to run in The Atlantic (in 1990, I think) in a heavily trimmed version. Per Baker, the trimmed version would have been about 13,000 words, long but certainly not beyond the pale at the time. (As Baker notes in U & I, The New Yorker had not too long before dedicated an entire issue to a work by Donald Barthelme.)

And now I read this in a New York Observer article on the revival of the long essay:

Mr. Dobbs, who has written for The New York Times Magazine, Wired and National Geographic, usually writes about science, so the piece was a bit of a departure. The magazines he approached turned him down. He suspected at the time that the scale of the story was one problem—it was a complicated tale, hard to fit in a magazine, even at 6,000 or 8,000 words. Dedicated to his story despite the rejections, Mr. Dobbs started talking to Evan Ratliff, editor and co-founder of the online startup The Atavist, a self-described “boutique publishing house” that produces non-fiction articles for e-readers and smart phones. Initially one selling point was the possibility of writing a longer story: The Atavist publishes “nonfiction stories that are longer than magazine articles but shorter than books,” ranging in length from 10,000 to 20,000 words.

The article doesn’t say which magazines turned Dobbs down, but it’s telling that no one would take him at a length that would have been completely acceptable in a lot of venues 20 years ago.

There’s another interesting angle here: Dobbs’ resultant ebook, “My Mother’s Lover” has sold in the five figures and has earned him far more than he ever would have been paid by any magazine. Now obviously very few ebook-long-essays are going to sell as this one did, but it’s interesting to see the shifting economics at work: even if this story had sold 5,000 copies, at $1/download (which Dobbs says was his take) that will be worth a lot of freelancers’ time. If places like Byliner can stay in business offering their clients this kind of take, then this will be a huge opportunity for talented journalists to publish items that have all but been thrown out of the magazine market.

But most of all, I just like the idea of this format. There are way too many books on the market right now that are essentially 5,000- to 10,000-word magazine articles padded out to 250 pages. In addition to being unfit for a book length, these are just wasteful: these are the kinds of books that people will read at most once and then get rid of. It makes a lot more sense to publish them in ebook long essay format, where they can be the correct length and reach their audience without all the unnecessary production and marketing costs of a full-on book.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Smith Essay Redux Over the weekend I came back to the Zadie Smith essay in the current NYRB. It’s really the kind of thing we should be seeing...
  2. Borges essay A good essay on Borges via ReadySteadyBook. Borges’ fondness for detective stories stems from his dislike for the classical novel. For the detective story, unlike...
  3. More on Lethem's Essay Jonathan Lethem’s Harper’s essay "The Ecstasy of Influence" has made a big splash. It’s one of the more exciting things I’ve read in a while...
  4. Story Lengths The blogger at Spinning has written There was a recent question raised at the MetaxuCafe forum about story length, and the usual answer would be...
  5. Vollmann Essay to Come I’m quite happy to say that I’ve sold my essay on the work of William T. Vollmann to the literary journal The Chattahoochee Review. I...

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