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.

For low prices on Las Vegas shows visit LasVegas.ShowTickets.com

You Say

  • Neil G: Think of how less juvenile Marilynne Robinson's writing woul
  • Padraic: Funny, I had no idea Phillip Roth grew up in the Midwest...
  • Ryan Ries: Yeah, what exactly does the Midwestern thing mean? It appea
  • Bernie: Whoa now, mind your Midwestern readers there...
  • Gs: There seems to me an important facet of fiction revealed in
  • David Long: This is a list I posted a few days ago: 25 REASONS TO THA
  • Padraic: I think Saramango gives Coetzee a pretty good run for most a

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

Shop though these links = Support this site


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.


  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić September 15, 2014
    As Drndić reiterates throughout the novel, “Behind every name there is a story.” And Haya Tedeschi’s story is draped in death. Born to a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism and tacitly supported the Fascists in Italy, Haya was a bystander to the Holocaust. She attended movies while Jews and partisans were transported to concentration camps; she pored […]
  • The Tree With No Name by Drago Jančar September 15, 2014
    At the opening of chapter 87—the first chapter found in The Tree with No Name—Janez Lipnik finds himself up a tree, shoeless, and lost in the Slovenian countryside. He makes his way to a house where he is taken in by a woman teacher who is waiting for her lover, a soldier. It becomes clear we are at the height of World War II. Soon after, we follow Lipnik […]
  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
    Here, at the midpoint of his narrative, Bernhard, the affectless and purposeless protagonist of "The Unseen," experiences existential near-emancipation at dusk. This retreat toward obscurity in terse, direct language—thematic and stylistic markers of each work in the collection—comes immediately after Bernhard’s sister mentions her plans to enterta […]
  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
    In his new book of essays, Berlin Now, Peter Schneider reveals himself as a gnarled Cold Warrior who has been stricken with many of the maladies common to his generation. With the specter of Communism exorcized, his new enemy is Islam. The book is a collection of short interlocking pieces introducing Anglophone readers to Berlin; it is not being published in […]
  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
    “It seemed that the [New Yorker] story—which was in part the result of my dealing with the reception of my novel—had been much more widely received than the novel itself,” says the narrator of Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04. Perhaps this narrator is Lerner himself—at one point he describes 10:04, within its own pages, as “neither fiction nor nonfiction but […]
  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting is a masterful work structured around Robert Smithson’s earthwork “The Spiral Jetty.” Olsen’s novel is comprised of three narrations, written each by a separate member of a family. The husband’s and wife’s texts progress in opposite directions across the book, with each page divided among these two inverted texts; though […]
  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
    In The Ants, we receive a study of existence through ants. That is, there are ants everywhere, ants substituted in every segment of the landscape, yet their behavior seems to reveal something altogether human. Too human. The ants are crushed and disappointed. They are warm and many. They are involved in gang wars and live inside carrot cake. The unique quali […]

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.”

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  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...

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

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.

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>