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

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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 […]

Reviewing First-Time Books

I don’t really think this is an “ethical” practice (or at least not any more than its opposite), but it does seem to be an interesting twist on the “we only publish positive reviews” idea. Although, it’s unclear precisely what the LARB’s policy is. Where is the line between “constructive critique” and “reviewing positively”? Surely most first-time writers would benefit from honest feedback from competent critics. If the critic ultimately sees the book as a failure, then the constructive critique would not be run?

The Los Angeles Review of Books has a policy, which the editor Evan Kindley divulged in a Twitter back-and-forth on Friday, of reviewing first books positively or not reviewing them at all. The rationale behind the policy, Kindley explained, is “That most authors’ careers fade away on their own, and that it’s easy and not that interesting to eviscerate first-timers.” He allowed that the LARB “might make exceptions for insanely hyped debuts” like Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, and would “certainly run a constructive critique of a first book.” But it’s only fair—“ethical” was his word—“to give writers a grace period.”

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  1. Book Reviewing According to the Lit Saloon, there’s a provocative piece in book reviewing in The New Republic. Of course critics should review books rather than personalities...
  2. My Thoughts on Reviewing Translations Or at least some of them, as part of Words Without Borders' online symposium on reviewing translations. As you can see, I was writing in...
  3. Online Book Reviewing Well, the British newspaper spat over "online book reviewing" has (predictablly) become an attack on litblogs. The Literary Saloon takes a far more measured tone...
  4. Reviewing Vollmann and David Mitchell's Ugly Cover It's been an interesting week over at The Constant Conversation. We've got an interesting discussion of Vollmann's writing going on after John Lingan critiqued Pico...
  5. Why Is Everyone Reviewing HHhH? With the James Wood review in this week’s New Yorker, it’s official: everyone has reviewed HHhH by Lauren Binet. And, well, the critics that I...

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3 comments to Reviewing First-Time Books

  • P.

    May I just suggest that this whole issue with taking it easy on certain writers, or not writing too obviously vituperative reviews of this or that book for whatever reason, is not in the least a new issue? http://harpers.org/archive/1959/10/the-decline-of-book-reviewing/ — Elizabeth Hardwick: “The flat praise and the faint dissension, the minimal style and the light little article, the absence of involvement, passion, character, eccentricity—the lack, at last, of the literary tone itself—have made the New York Times into a provincial literary journal.” Sound familiar?

  • Sawn

    What are reviews supposed to be for? So that the reviewer can buld a network of chums who will scratch their back in turn? Or to give book readers and buyers an accurate account of a book’s quality?
    From reading a a large number of reviews on LARB I get the impression that their philosophy is more the former. Now and then they present a review or article by a reputable author, but most of the reviews on that site are by unknown people and many are completely untrustworthy. Really most articles there read like some nerds jerk off session. Most recently I purchased the novel Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel based upon a glowing review there and the book turned out to be pretty lousy.
    I find it more important to read reviews by critics in whom I have built up trust because they consistently have opinions I respect. I like Ron Charles at the Washington Post even though I am not always interested in all the books he likes. And well obviously I like this site. Why no one has hired Mr. Esposito as a full time writer is beyond my understanding. Well I guess other than that there are now so few newspapers with permanent crtics.

  • Tom

    Sawn, I think you’re being too harsh on LARB. “Some nerds [sic] jerk off session” doesn’t do justice to the range of essays they publish, many of which are quite insightful. Also, who cares if the review is written by “unknown people?” As long as it’s intelligent and well-written, it should be taken seriously. Literary culture is not just about the big names…that’s a good way to fall into elitism and arrogance. Finally, even “reputable” authors and critics scratch each other’s backs more often than we’d like.

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