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

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 […]

Lorrie Moore's Sad Decline

Dan Green: not a fan of Lorrie Moore’s career trajectory:

Moore’s 2009 novel, A Gate at the Stairs, shows the most precipitous decline into banality and unearned emotion yet. It may be the worst novel by a “name” author I’ve ever read, which is made all the more dismaying by the fact it comes from a writer I once admired. Once again this is a story that leans heavily on the initial emotional appeal of children, but in this case although an orphaned child is introduced and her plight made a center of interest for a while, utlimately this narrative thread has very little emotional weight and is finally dropped, not to be taken up again. Other potentially emotion-laden episodes are introduced as well, but they all remain surprisingly inert, both in narrative and emotional effect. Thus, while the situations evoked in the novel are potentially mawkish, they are executed with so little imagination and formal integrity they essentially just arise and recede without making much of an impression at all. The death of the protagonist’s brother, for example, seems so arbitrary, so clearly the product of narrative convenience that her reaction to it is almost grotesquely overwrought. We’ve been given so little reason to care about the brother, or so little insight into the relationship between sister and brother, this episode as the novel’s climactic event falls disastrously flat even in a narrative that never gets off the ground anyway.

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  1. Decline of reading in America Someone go call Kevin Smokler and ask him what he makes of this. Faced with declining sales, two of the biggest publishers of mass-market titles,...
  2. A Sad Story of a First-Time Author This story, from the Columbia Journalism Review’s first annual books issue, is making the roundsof the lit blogs. It’s a pretty interesting read about how...
  3. Should I Read A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore? I feel like I’ve gotten a little out of touch with contemporary American fiction (too much older American fiction plus contemporary translation), so I’m trying...
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11 comments to Lorrie Moore's Sad Decline

  • Because of reviews like yours, I decided not to read A Gate at the Stairs. Having followed Moore almost since the beginning of her career, I saw a decline in her writing developing many years ago, and this is the outcome I expected for the novel. She still has an army of devotees, but one more disappointment will be enough to make them break ranks en masse.

    I’ve written elsewhere that the early landing of a tenure-track position at the University of Wisconsin has led to a dearth of experience in a life that was uneventful to begin with. Some argue that struggling artists need their struggle assuaged. I don’t agree, and Lorrie Moore is a case in point.

  • Seth Clyde-Hamilton Gold

    Agree 100%.

  • anonymous

    You guys can’t read.

  • Not only can we read, but we also have the guts to use our actual names, unlike you with your empty criticism. If you’re open to discussion, I’ll be glad to elaborate on my position and defend it.

  • Although “anonymous” is too meek to have an actual discussion, I’ve put together a very short critique of Lorrie Moore’s work. Rather than suffer through “A Gate at the Stairs,” I reread “Real Estate,” one of the stories in “Birds of America.” This particular story, which must have been written around 1998, had never been published previously. I doubt it would have passed muster for “The New Yorker.”

    Ruth, the protagonist, is a stock Moore character: her husband, Terence, is a serial cheater, and though she has already had one lung removed for cancer and undergone chemotherapy, she still smokes. Of course, they never discuss anything substantative, and Ruth lingers on in unhappy silence. In an attempt at pedantic word usage, Moore refers to a keloidal scar as a “ketoidal track.” The plot includes a couple of absurdities that I assume are supposed to be entertaining. An unknown fifteen-year-old boy named Tod illegally occupies Ruth’s attic unbeknownst to her – even though she and Terence have heard him clomping around for days. There is a burglar named Noel who breaks into people’s homes while they’re in bed, makes them sing him songs, and transcribes the words before robbing them. In the denouement, Ruth, who has been practicing shooting in order to kill unwanted crows in the yard, shoots and kills Noel. Finally Ruth runs from the house barefoot, and, as in countless Lorrie Moore stories, there is a rush of evocative language that sympathetically represents what might simply be called clinical depression.

    When I say that Moore’s work has declined in quality, it’s because she was writing the same sorts of things twenty years ago and has become formulaic. Without reading it, I presume the failure of “A Gate at the Stairs” would be starker, with these unsatisfactory elements jumbled into a full-length novel that wasn’t edited properly. I agree with Dan Green that her language can still be beautiful, but have hoped that by now she would be able to write something better: a book that comes to grips with more than a few artificially constructed vicissitudes of life, that doesn’t rely on overwrought emotional set pieces, and that appeals to mature, educated adults.

  • Correction: A version of “Real Estate” appeared in “The New Yorker” just as “Birds of America” was being published.

  • Jen C

    I am currently reading A Gate at the Stairs and somewhat agree with this critique. It is not as good as some of her earlier short stories. In general, I find her writing to be lacking something in terms of plot and character development, but I really like the way she describes things and the random bursts of humor. I definitely laugh out loud at times when reading Moore’s work, and that is enough incentive for me I suppose.

  • Rose S

    Yes, well, I didn’t much like A Gate At the Stairs, but I read it quickly unable to put it down anyway. I think this was because a) I really loved Anagrams, Birds of America, and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, and b) because I wanted something to HAPPEN! I felt that I related to Tassie because I was around her age at that time, but who lives in that isolated world? Who goes around not knowing or interacting with anyone? I couldn’t believe how bleak it was and I can get down with bleak, believe me. Also, the plot was a wandering stream that had no climax besides the series of disappointments and loss (or the strange scene in the coffin). Some joy would have helped. The scenes with Murph were the best and most real in the book.

  • [...] have a knot in my stomach.  I’ve just been to conversationalreading.com, after Googling one of my favorite authors, Lorrie Moore. I read a conversation entitled, [...]

  • jan g

    Just…and I mean just finished the novel and boy was it a dissapointment. I live in Milwaukee and just had to go to Madison for two days and while there I kept thinking about what a really great town Madison is. The novel was so poorly edited that I wanted to send her an email offering to edit her next effort. The purple prose and sardonic quips by the narrator…and all the excamation points!!!!How did a writing teacher let those get so out of control.
    Her parents were so weird, her relationship with her brother was not developed enough and the couple she worked for were uber creeps. I was relieved the baby was out of the mess…and I was relieved I got out as well.

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