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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.

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 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 […]

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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