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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    Issue 38 right here. or TOC after the jump. Features Readings, Fragments,... »
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You Say

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

Shop though these links = Support this site


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.


  • [[there.]] by Lance Olsen December 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen is the author of two recent works, [[there.]] and Theories of Forgetting (FC2). The second presents three narratives in a clearly fictional mode while the first offers day-to-day thoughts on living in another country. We rightly suspect that any artist’s memoir or diary ought to be viewed as written with a prospective public in mind, no matter ho […]
  • Noir and Nihilism in True Detective December 15, 2014
    "It’s just one story. The oldest. . . . Light versus dark." Spanning 8 episodes between January and March of 2014, HBO’s runaway hit True Detective challenged the status quo of contemporary crime drama. The show has been widely celebrated for its philosophy, complexity, and visual aesthetic. Co-starring actors Matthew McConaughey as Rustin "Ru […]
  • The Colonel’s World December 15, 2014
    Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born 1940) is considered by many the living Iranian novelist, a perennial Nobel Prize candidate. Dowlatabadi wrote The Colonel some thirty years ago, because in his own words he had been “afflicted.” The subject forced him to sit at the desk and write nonstop for two years. “Writing The Colonel I felt a strong sense of indignation and pa […]
  • Mr Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn by Alessandro Baricco December 15, 2014
    Alessandro Baricco’s well-crafted, elegant prose seems as though it should create the impression of distance, or of abstraction; instead, the reader of Mr. Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn becomes wholly implicated and immersed, drawn into a dreamy and idiosyncratic world that blurs the division between reader, character and writer. As readers, we expect that th […]
  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash December 15, 2014
    "The paan shop leads to the opening of a tunnel, full of the creatures of the city, and the tears and spit of a fakir." In a single opening line, Uday Prakash sets the scene for the politically incisive, yet intimately human stories of The Walls of Delhi (translated brilliantly from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum). Lest the fakir suggest otherwise, t […]
  • The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation December 15, 2014
    In a speech reprinted in the book, Heim makes a self-deprecating joke about whether the life of a translator is worth reading: “What does a translator do? He sits and translates!” The Man Between serves as a book-length retort by laying bare all the things Heim did: these include persuading the academy that translation is a scholarly (in addition to a creati […]
  • The Prabda Yoon Interview December 15, 2014
    Yes, I think people are not comfortable anymore to write in this straightforward, traditional way, especially the younger, more progressive writers. So it’s interesting—you have social commentary, and you also get a little bit of structural experiment. You have themes that are very, very Thai. I’m actually very interested to see what new writers will come up […]
  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck December 15, 2014
    For Jenny Erpenbeck, no life is lived in an indisputable straight line. Which is why, in her new novel (new in English, though published in 2012 as Aller Tage Abend) she approaches the narrative as a series of potential emotional earthquakes, some which take place, some which might have taken place, all of which reveal something of how political turbulence p […]
  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
    Once, at a writers symposium, William Howard Gass remarked that to substitute the page for the world is a form of revenge for the recognition that "you are, in terms of the so-called world, an impotent nobody." There is inarguably no contemporary writer of American stock in whose work one might locate a more ambitious war of attrition between innov […]
  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
    Luiselli’s first novel, Faces in the Crowd, translated into fluid English by Christina MacSweeney, is the perfect illustration of this attitude toward fiction writing. Narrated in short sections spanning multiple storylines and the better part of one hundred years, it uses "[d]eep excavations" to expose the empty spaces in two lives, those of a you […]

Making Stuff Up Is Never Journalism

It’s interesting to see the reaction to Mike Daisey’s significant fabrications on This American Life surrounding Apple and Foxconn in light of the reaction to John D’Agata making things up in his book About a Mountain. Significantly, Daisey seems to have been aware that what he did was not okay by journalistic standards, as he steered fact-checkers away from his lies, whereas D’Agata remains unrepentant and wholeheartedly admits that he made stuff up for his book.

Perhaps the various media employed have something to do with these different stances. I saw Daisey’s expose when it was a one-man show called “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” and it was pretty obvious that he was at the very least inventing encounters that didn’t occur. (I also found his explanation for how he, in six days, managed to get facts that accredited journalists hadn’t managed in months unbelievable and a little self-serving.) It was nonetheless an excellent entertainment with a good message, but I doubt I would have taken Daisey’s claims about Apple so seriously if they hadn’t been corroborated by New York Times reporting. I took it more of a fictionalization of true events than anything else.

I bet a lot of other theatergoers felt the same, but once the story entered the realm of radio and This American Life, which is generally considered journalism, it was immediately held to a different standard. The question for D’Agata seems to be one of genre as well, except that I have yet to see another person who interprets that genre of his work in the same way that he does.

Daisey has placed a statement about his performance on his website:

What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic ­- not a theatrical ­- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret. I am proud that my work seems to have sparked a growing storm of attention and concern over the often appalling conditions under which many of the high-tech products we love so much are assembled in China.

While I appreciate Daisey drawing a distinction that D’Agata refuses to recognize, I still see some problems with this: first, it leaves the fact of Daisey purposely misleading This American Life fact-checkers unaccounted for. Secondly, and most importantly, it does not speak to the fact that in Daisey’s performance he effectively denounces journalists for not having the courage to get the “real” story from the Foxconn factory workers, at the same time elevating himself for his courage in talking directly to workers—we now know that those accounts have in fact been invented. Certainly dramatic license does not extend to insulting the individuals whose work you have taken from in order to create your own fabrication, while at the same time praising yourself for having more courage than they do for doing something you did not do.

And lastly, this opens the difficult question of how much fictionalizing is acceptable. One of the climactic points of Daisey’s show involves his poignant encounter with a Foxconn factory worker who has a mangled hand, made so while working absurdly long hours to create Apple products. We now know that Daisey in fact never met such a man. I could see Daisey taking some license in reconstructing this encounter—had it actually occurred—but to completely make it up seems much too far. In my opinion, it puts his show definitively in the realm of fiction, and at the very least Daisey should warn audiences that parts of his show are completely invented.

I think that, in the end, this episode points to why fictionalizing without making that fact explicitly clear is something that is never okay to do.

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  1. Journalism Novels? Steve Weinberg notes that "journalism novels" tend to be sequestered to low fiction, and then goes on to wish there were mroe serious journalism novels:...
  2. Publishers Making Dumb ebook Mistakes In this post, Chad mocks ebook distributor ScrollMotion and publishers Hachette and Random House for their mania about ebook piracy and their eagerness to price...
  3. The Making of Catch-22 Indeed, Catch-22 is an amazing work, and perhaps not read enough or regarded highly enough today. Whenever I hear talk of the evils of "hysterical...
  4. Newspapers Making a Kindle-Killer? It's no secret that newspapes have hastened their own downfall with poor decisions and some ridiculous, even illegal ideas (like massive price collusion). But,...
  5. Making Reality More Fun I seriously wonder about the philosophy of life that underlies fantasies such as these. Because if you can't get motivated to clean the tub because...

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