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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 […]

Stop Being So Damn Nice!

Is it okay to be this positive about an article arguing against the cloying eagerness of online literary culture? I think it is. Jacob Silverman has really said it here at Slate: “A better literary culture would be one that’s not so dependent on personal esteem and mutual reinforcement. It would not treat offense or disagreement as toxic.”

And then:

Instead, cloying niceness and blind enthusiasm are the dominant sentiments. As if mirroring the surrounding culture, biting criticism has become synonymous with offense; everything is personal—one’s affection for a book is interchangeable with one’s feelings about its author as a person. Critics gush in anticipation for books they haven’t yet read; they <3 so-and-so writer, tagging the author’s Twitter handle so that he or she knows it, too; they exhaust themselves with outbursts of all-caps praise, because that’s how you boost your follower count and affirm your place in the back-slapping community that is the literary web. And, of course, critics, most of them freelance and hungry for work, want to appeal to fans and readers as well; so to connect with them, they must become them.

Twitter and Tumblr form the superstructure of today’s literary world. The salons and independent bookstores are disappearing, so this is where we congregate, allowing us to collapse geography at the expense of solitary thinking. This is where links are passed around, recommendations exchanged, news spread, contacts and friendships made. It is also where everyone is selling himself and where debate and dissent are easily snuffed. As litblogger Mark Athitakis recently tweeted, “Twitter defaults into an affirmation engine. It's easier to enthuse than discuss.”

This is, unfortunately, what American culture is becoming: a million fragile egos all rushing to affirm one another.

I hope this site has been an oasis of non-bullshittery and crotchety, honest opinions in a world far too full of conniving and opportunistic niceness. Not saying that people shouldn’t be smart about how they manage their careers and their relationships, but you all know when you’ve crossed the point of sacrificing your integrity in order to get ahead. Bad on you! For that, your books won’t be read in the future and your opinions will be doomed to laughter.

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  1. Polite Discourse In her New Yorker article about Witold Gombrowicz’s Diaries, Ruth Franklin brings up the Pole’s harsh treatment of the literary scene he was a part...
  2. The Ins and Outs of Offenses and Criticisms This volume is only sixty-seven pages long, and small pages too, but Collini, a distinguished historian of ideas, has written a powerfully argued manifesto on...
  3. Nice Interview with Tablet & Pen Editor Reza Aslan Reza Aslan: It’s like history, right? I mean the anthology is sort of like writing a history, and in this case I very much see...
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  5. Nice Moves From Elisa Gabbert’s review of the poetry collection PERSONATIONSKIN at Open Letters Monthly: I included “Autobiographia”—the first poem in Karl Parker’s debut collection, Personationskin—three times...

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9 comments to Stop Being So Damn Nice!

  • Padraic

    It is okay, as long as we can rip you for block quoting the same Silverman post on back to back days.

  • Michael

    Yeah I could have sworn I’d read that block quote somewhere before.

  • Silverman is right about the spineless online friendliness etc. but I think overemphasizes social media. What is missing much more urgently is more of a literary issue and is conviction of taste – the compulsion and ability to say that particular books and particular kinds of books simply suck.

    People who haven’t really read all that much often say they like good writing and dislike bad writing, but can’t say much about the difference between the two. For a 16 year old it’s understandable but for a book reviewer – c’mon.

    This communal “we’re all writers, let’s help each other” also comes from the unfortunate reality of everyone – reviewers, readers, etc. – being “writers.” The world has become one big workshop.

    Last mean thing – I’d never heard of Emma Straub before today, but Emma – I love my parents, friends and, under the influence of some substances that I can no longer afford or probably survive, can love almost everyone for a few hours at least. But when you’re in love it means you are either having sex or want to have sex with them, so being in love with everyone – unless you’re bi and in extremely good shape – would probably prevent you from doing much writing, which is what the focus of this oasis (and thanks for that) is all about.

  • Jacob Silverman

    Hi all,

    Just to be clear: I first wrote a short Tumblr post about this subject, which Scott quoted from in a post a week or so back. This Slate essay is an expansion of that post and uses some of it, but kind of goes into a larger survey of the culture, especially online. That essay went up on Friday. No collusion here, but I appreciate the nod(s).

  • Actually, I don’t think most people are at all sure of when they’ve crossed that line.

    Or just don’t care.

  • [...] and how did Beckett find his voice? A reader’s report on Dream of Fair to Middling… »Stop Being So Damn Nice!Is it okay to be this positive about an article arguing against the cloying eagerness of online [...]

  • [...] having a nice little conversation about the role of negative reviews in literary culture, thanks to Jacob Silverman’s piece in Slate. Alas, now Laura Miller has joined [...]

  • It is according to where you hang out, what you will see. I shop at Amazon.com and see a number of comments/reviews about books on there that are flattering, but some also on the same page that are negative.

    Social media has been built upon connection and affirmation of each other, so I think it is seen there more.

    “Critics gush in anticipation for books they haven’t yet read; they <3 so-and-so writer, tagging the author’s Twitter handle so that he or she knows it, too; they exhaust themselves with outbursts of all-caps praise, because that’s how you boost your follower count and affirm your place in the back-slapping community that is the literary web."

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