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.


  • 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
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  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
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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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