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.

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    Issue 38 right here. or TOC after the jump. Features Readings, Fragments,... »
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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

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.


  • [[there.]] by Lance Olsen December 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen is the author of two recent works, [[there.]] and Theories of Forgetting (FC2). The second presents three narratives in a clearly fictional mode while the first offers day-to-day thoughts on living in another country. We rightly suspect that any artist’s memoir or diary ought to be viewed as written with a prospective public in mind, no matter ho […]
  • Noir and Nihilism in True Detective December 15, 2014
    "It’s just one story. The oldest. . . . Light versus dark." Spanning 8 episodes between January and March of 2014, HBO’s runaway hit True Detective challenged the status quo of contemporary crime drama. The show has been widely celebrated for its philosophy, complexity, and visual aesthetic. Co-starring actors Matthew McConaughey as Rustin "Ru […]
  • The Colonel’s World December 15, 2014
    Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born 1940) is considered by many the living Iranian novelist, a perennial Nobel Prize candidate. Dowlatabadi wrote The Colonel some thirty years ago, because in his own words he had been “afflicted.” The subject forced him to sit at the desk and write nonstop for two years. “Writing The Colonel I felt a strong sense of indignation and pa […]
  • Mr Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn by Alessandro Baricco December 15, 2014
    Alessandro Baricco’s well-crafted, elegant prose seems as though it should create the impression of distance, or of abstraction; instead, the reader of Mr. Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn becomes wholly implicated and immersed, drawn into a dreamy and idiosyncratic world that blurs the division between reader, character and writer. As readers, we expect that th […]
  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash December 15, 2014
    "The paan shop leads to the opening of a tunnel, full of the creatures of the city, and the tears and spit of a fakir." In a single opening line, Uday Prakash sets the scene for the politically incisive, yet intimately human stories of The Walls of Delhi (translated brilliantly from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum). Lest the fakir suggest otherwise, t […]
  • The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation December 15, 2014
    In a speech reprinted in the book, Heim makes a self-deprecating joke about whether the life of a translator is worth reading: “What does a translator do? He sits and translates!” The Man Between serves as a book-length retort by laying bare all the things Heim did: these include persuading the academy that translation is a scholarly (in addition to a creati […]
  • The Prabda Yoon Interview December 15, 2014
    Yes, I think people are not comfortable anymore to write in this straightforward, traditional way, especially the younger, more progressive writers. So it’s interesting—you have social commentary, and you also get a little bit of structural experiment. You have themes that are very, very Thai. I’m actually very interested to see what new writers will come up […]
  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck December 15, 2014
    For Jenny Erpenbeck, no life is lived in an indisputable straight line. Which is why, in her new novel (new in English, though published in 2012 as Aller Tage Abend) she approaches the narrative as a series of potential emotional earthquakes, some which take place, some which might have taken place, all of which reveal something of how political turbulence p […]
  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
    Once, at a writers symposium, William Howard Gass remarked that to substitute the page for the world is a form of revenge for the recognition that "you are, in terms of the so-called world, an impotent nobody." There is inarguably no contemporary writer of American stock in whose work one might locate a more ambitious war of attrition between innov […]
  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
    Luiselli’s first novel, Faces in the Crowd, translated into fluid English by Christina MacSweeney, is the perfect illustration of this attitude toward fiction writing. Narrated in short sections spanning multiple storylines and the better part of one hundred years, it uses "[d]eep excavations" to expose the empty spaces in two lives, those of a you […]

Stop the Editor Hating!

Okay, okay, I know . . . I’ve done it, you’ve done it. At one point in the past five years or so, each and every one of us has blamed big commercial New York editors for promoting a blockbuster model of publishing that’s killing literary fiction.

Which, true, has a fair amount of truth to it, but enough already. That’s more or less how I felt when I was reading Jay Baron Nicorvo’s essay in Guernica, pitched as a response to Ted “Write More Relevant Books You Navel Gazing Hacks” Genoways.

For what it’s worth, I side more with Nicorvo here than Genoways, it’s just that I’m tired of hearing this:

These days, editors at commercial publishing houses are required to do the same. They attempt to herd the mob because they no longer know how to reach the reader. Old media had a direct line to the audience that bought books, newspapers, and magazines. Publicity and marketing departments knew where to effectively (if not cheaply) spread the word about forthcoming titles and upcoming issues, expecting to get out what they put in. They’d print a few hundred or a few thousand galleys, mail them first-class to reviewers, watch the reviews roll in, and count the sales. But reviews no longer sell books. New media is the internet, and publicity and marketing departments have little central control over the flow of information. Amateur reviews of a book on Amazon are as important if not more so than the professional assessments in Publishers Weekly. And so what do editors do? They cling to what’s working, if not working well—blockbusters. The dominant, dysfunctional business model for movies has been adapted for books. And this is why more authors like John Edgar Wideman have had enough; he’d rather self-publish and have a larger say than be hamstrung by a system favoring quantity over quality.

Right, I get it, I agree (well, not exactly about that Amazon vs PW thing . . . do buyers at bookstores read Amazon reviews to make buying decisions? Do editors use them to decide what to assign for review?). But frankly, this line of argumentation hasn’t brought about a wave of revulsion and transformation in the publishing industry. So let’s move on. We know what doesn’t work, so let’s start talking about what does work.

For more on that, I ask you to watch this speech given by the ever-visionary Richard Nash.

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4 comments to Stop the Editor Hating!

  • I was at a recent talk about this issue, in which the speaker exhorted publishers to work from the bottom (the internet) up, finding prospective book ideas / authors from places like high-quality or creative blogs, and info-websites.

    A middle-aged member of the audience raised his hand and asked, “But how to we older guys get involved in the web?” It was one of those moments where the problem is only clear to those who already knew what it was. I nearly stood up and yelled, “Hire me.”

  • Travis

    Nicorvo’s article doesn’t really make any sense. He says that Genoways is wrong because MFA grads aren’t that prolific as book publishers… but Genoways’ article isn’t about books. It’s about lit mags, which are generally dominated by MFA grads. I think he’s just reacting to the (inappropriate) title of Genoways’ article. Having read slush piles and MFA submissions before, I can’t really fault Genoways for his distress. I was once rejected from a lit mag with what at the time seemed insulting, but now seems perfectly appropriate: a tiny, impersonal form rejection note, and a subscription request. The other problem with Nicorvo’s argument is that he blames editors while glossing over his comment that, “[editors are] lucky if they can even distinguish their tastes from what their bosses and the bottom line demand.” What about those bosses? If editors have to dumb down their selections to keep their jobs, isn’t that a result of the bosses, the distributors, and the publishing business models? Lastly, I notice that Nicorvo’s wife is Thisbe Nissen, who is a teacher at Iowa (with a high-powered agent) and the writer of several books published through a Random House imprint, books that really can’t be considered blockbusters. I think this is usually called “looking a gift horse in the mouth.”

  • PJ

    Travis asked, “What about those bosses?” I would suggest that Nicorvo is, in fact, focused primarily on them. Editors, he says, “if they want to keep their jobs, acquire for the mass market.” That conditional clause is crucial, and the same point is repeated throughout the essay.

    Also, I don’t think the argument is that “Genoways is wrong because MFA grads aren’t that prolific as book publishers.” The argument is that fiction is struggling because the dominant publishing model is broken; whereas Genoways argues that the dominant writing model (i.e., writers trained at MFA programs) is broken. I think Nicorvo is right: it’s the publishing model, not the writing model, that needs fixing.

  • Travis

    PJ, the fact remains that Genoways is talking specifically about fiction in literary magazines, and Nicorvo counters it by blaming editors for a blockbuster mentality, when editors of literary magazines have, if anything, the opposite mentality. As for Nicorvo being primarily focused on the bosses of editors, I must have missed that somewhere in his thesis statement that “It’s the editors, not the writers, who need encouraging. Editors need to change what, and how, they acquire.” He calls for restructuring New York City publishing, but puts the entire onus on editors who are now just barely able to squeak out a living, and have a relatively small amount of control.

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