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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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.


  • 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 […]

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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