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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.

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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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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 […]

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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More from Conversational Reading:

  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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