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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

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Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

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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 […]

Profanity in Blurbs?

Bernhard
The Literary Saloon thinks it's uncovered a can't-miss blurb for any publisher willing to translate Thomas Bernhard's Meine Preise:

While we're not big fans of blurbs we would, however, also urge that the US/UK publisher include one very prominently on the cover of the book — from Maxim Biller's review in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung:

Das Arschloch Thomas Bernhard, und das sage ich, obwohl ich ungern schlecht über Tote rede, das Arschloch Bernhard hat ziemlich sicher nur ein einziges gutes Buch geschrieben. Dieses Buch erscheint erst jetzt, obwohl er es schon 1980 geschrieben hat, und es zeigt, was für ein Arschloch er war

[The asshole Thomas Bernhard -- and I say this even though I dislike speaking ill of the dead -- the asshole Thomas Bernhard, it's fairly certain to say, only wrote a single good book. This book appears only now, even though he already wrote it in 1980, and it demonstrates what an asshole he was.]

This raises an interesting question: undoubtedly this would get some attention, and a large part of the appeal hinges on Biller's use of the term asshole, but would a profane blurb create the right kind of attention or the wrong kind?

I can't say that I can recall ever seeing profanity in a blurb before (not even in a positive sense, like "a fucking good read!"), although Bernhard would seem to be a good choice to break the profanity line. But I do worry . . . if a publisher does go profane, and if it does work out well, will that usher in a new era of potty-mouthed bookcovers?

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Blurbs Charles Isherwood writes a column about how unethical publishers turn bad reviews into good blurbs. Frankly, anyone who buys a book based on a 1-word...
  2. New Thomas Bernhard Via This Space, I learn: German publishing house Suhrkamp has promised a "sensational release" during next year’s Thomas Bernhard year. The publishing house will release...
  3. Blurbs I don’t understand everyone’s obsession with blurbs. We’ve all read books with glowing blurbs that we thought stank. We know they’re nonsense and that there’s...

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6 comments to Profanity in Blurbs?

  • Rachel F

    Slightly milder but similar:
    “I really wanted my second book to be sharp and funny and snide and soulful and brave and heartbreaking and true. Unfortunately, that bitch Ann Leary wrote it first. I’d hate her guts except that I want to be her best friend.” -Cynthia Kaplan, author of Why I’m Like This

  • I can recall one very profane but positive paperback blurb, when Blanche McCrary Boyd called Norman Mailer’s “Harlot’s Ghost” “one of the best fucking novels I’ve ever read.”

  • Check out Forrest Gander’s blurb on the back of the New Directions paperback of Bolaño’s “The Romantic Dogs” — “…With Bolaño we encounter not only ‘fist-fucking’ but ‘feet-fucking’ in a poem that also mentions Pascal, Nazi generals, Shining Path bonfires, and a teenage hooker…” It’s one of my all-time favorite blurbs.

  • Matt,
    Now that’s a real interesting case . . . is it sensationalistic to be quoting profanity from the book itself? Good find.

  • Bruno

    Jim Dodge’s FUP has on its new british edition a quote from The Times that reads “This novel is fupped uck!”. Dunno if that counts.

  • Stefan Tobler

    Blurbs are often annoying prattle. Ditch them or make them memorable I say.
    I liked a gig poster that under the name of the band said “Overrated” – although it turned out that Overrated was the support band.

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