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 […]

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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