Tag Archives: house of holes

Last Chance to Pre-Order Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Today’s pretty much your last chance to pre-order Lady Chatterley’s Brother and get entered in the drawing for the box of books. Plus, if you order today you’ll kinda get that nice feeling of instant gratification so synonymous with Internet culture, as I’m going to be sending these out tomorrow.

Here’s where you buy it. It takes about 10 seconds:

$2.99 gets you 70 pages of sassy, erudite commentary on Nicholson Baker and Javier Marias, two authors who in many ways represent polar opposites of sex writing in our times.

And I should mention here that my co-author, Barrett Hathcock, also has his first book of fiction publishing in November from Aqueous Books: The Portable Son. He got a rave from Michael Martone, which is pretty awesome.

As a reminder, you don’t need an e-reader for this:

John Updike: Homophobic Critic

Slate resets a 1999 John Updike review in which he pretty clearly defined himself as homophobic (quote below). I bring this up since I’ve been discussing House of Holes lately, and Updike is just about as big a god as Nicholson Baker has. We’ll obviously never know what Updike would have thought of the book, but as Barrett notes in critique of the book in Lady Chatterley’s Brother, Baker’s sexual utopia–which many critics have pointed out is a virtual cornucopia of transgressive sex–is strictly hetero.

Which, in my opinion, only adds to Barrett’s argument that this was essentially Baker trying to get himself off.

Anyway, here’s the quote from Slate:

Here is the very first sentence of Updike’s review:

The novels of the English writer Alan Hollinghurst take some getting used to; they are relentlessly gay in their personnel, and after a while you begin to long for the chirp and swing and civilizing animation of a female character.

It doesn’t get better from there. Updike says the readers’ “noses are rubbed” by Hollinghurst “in the poetry of a love object’s anus,” going on to quote some of the novel’s strikingly elegant (and, yes, sexually explicit) descriptive prose. This would be fairly unremarkable were it coming from a critic other than Updike, whose “treatment of sex” in his own fiction was described (by Wilfrid Sheed) as “that of a fictional biochemist approaching mankind with a tray of hypersensitive gadgets.”

And Updike didn’t just express discomfort at the Hollinghurst’s precise, physically detailed observations about gay sex: He actually wrote a kind of brief against gay love as a compelling novelistic subject.

Baker, Updike, and Wallace

To give a little more context for Lady Chatterley’s Brotherwhich you all should pre-order right now–I’m going to reset Barrett’s essay on Nicholson Baker from Issue 21 of The Quarterly Conversation. Though Barrett doesn’t have much regard for Baker’s sex writing, he is a huge Baker fan (which is part of what makes his essay in LCB so interesting).

You can see that in the essay he wrote for TQC 21, where he argued that Baker is a sort of missing link in American letters between John Updike and David Foster Wallace. In fact, the essay begins:

Nicholson Baker is the missing link between John Updike and David Foster Wallace.

There, finally, I’ve said it—a proclamation so reductive and problematic, yet so rich with implication and reverberation, that I cannot resist saying it over and over again: if Updike marks one end of the post-war American prose spectrum and Wallace the other, Baker would represent a midpoint.

It would be easy to counterpoint Wallace and Updike, even if Wallace hadn’t already issued his Oedipal takedown in his essay “Certainly the End of Something or Other, One Would Sort of Have to Think,” . . .

He has quite a different take in Lady Chatterley’s Brother:

I don’t come to Baker’s latest, most sexually inflammatory novel as a novice. I have read all of his other work and I have written approvingly about him on multiple occasions. In fact, last year in The Quarterly Conversation I asserted that Baker was a kind of missing artistic link between John Updike and David Foster Wallace in the particular way he wrote about life at the close of the twentieth century. By extension, I argued that he was a major American writer who should be regarded as such. Part of the impetus for such an essay was my worry that Baker was thought of too often as contemporary literature’s crazy uncle, and not as the highly influential, steady, mid-career, confident presence that he actually is.

But now comes this book. In that long, defensive, applause-busy essay I did not mention his two previous sex novels, Vox and The Fermata, because I didn’t think they were very good, and I had hoped that they marked some transitional adolescent aesthetic phase he underwent, after which he returned home much more mature and developed, more appreciative of his parents and all they’d sacrificed for him, and ready to make hay with his initial prodigal promise, etc

Remember, if you pre-order this week, I’m entering you into a drawing for a box of awesome books that no longer fit on my shelves.

Pre-Order Lady Chatterley’s Brother

I’ve been talking a lot about Lady Chatterley’s Brother, the first ebook in a new series of long essays that I’m starting. The book will be on sale at all the regular online venues next Monday, Oct 17, but if you would like to pre-order it right now, use the button below. You’ll be charged $2.99–same as anywhere else–but Barrett and I will get to keep a little more of that money, as we won’t be paying our distributors a royalty. When you order, make sure to give me the email address you want the book sent to in the text field!

There are some benefits to pre-ordering:

  • First of all, I’ll be shipping these out over the weekend (first come, first served), so you’ll get yours a little early.
  • I’m also going to send all three file types (PDF, ePub, & MOBI) to people who order this way. So, if you get it through my site you get a little more.
  • And lastly, I’m going to draw the name of one lucky pre-orderer for a box full of books taken right from my shelves. (Alas, my shelves are very full.) These’ll be seriously good books.

And keep in mind, though this is an ebook, this is not limited to people with ereaders

And if you’d like a preview of this ebook before you buy it, you can read about 4,000 of Barrett’s and my 20,000-some words right here.

And here’s the buy button again:

Why We Need Long Critical Essays

I’d like to pick up this long essay thread that I started on Monday when I announced Lady Chatterley’s Brother and explain a little about where I’m coming from with this venture.

I’ve been a practicing critic for a while now, and over the years I’ve had the good fortune to writer better and better reviews and break into bigger and bigger venues. As far as it goes, this is all great: I think reviews can be a wonderful form of writing, and I love to write them (in no small part because it’s one of the few genres of writing that I really excel at). I also love to read them, when they’re done well.

But if literary criticism is to truly play a part in moving literary culture forward, we need more than reviews. Reviews are, by definition, a limited, reactive genre of writing. I don’t mean to say that they’re easy to write at all, or that people shouldn’t dedicate time to doing them well—literary culture needs good critics. But there is a lot, lot more for critics to write beyond reviews.

Good critics need to have vision and sweep just as much as good authors do, and if you look back at the great critics, what distinguishes them is that they have put forward very good ideas that remained viable throughout their careers and have shifted discourse. They’ve also played no small part in the creation and substance of some of the best literary fiction.

Well, this is exactly what TQC Long Essays are about. It’s about working with people whom I believe have a very firm grasp of criticism and asking them to take that next step–to start putting together some really interesting arguments about literature. My hope is twofold: to generate some interesting criticism that is a true contribution to literary culture, and to help some critics in the early-to-middle stages of their career move on to an interesting, bigger project.

I’ll . . . Have What He’s Having?

This week I unveiled my and Barrett’s twin essays on the sex writing of Javier Marias and Nicholson Baker. But after having read Barrett’s essay—and thus having gained some fairly intimate knowledge of House of Holes’ creation—I’m not sure how I feel about this. Actually, no, I do know how I feel about it: pretty grossed out.

See, over at Slate there’s a little blurb about how much Nicholson Baker loves to write at his local Friendly’s restaurant, and how he wrote his recent porn-fest in part over there:

But a recent profile by Katie Roiphe mentioned that Friendly’s was one of the places Baker wrote House of Holes—and somehow this makes perfect sense: Though his style can be gloriously elaborate (see, e.g., sentence B in this blog post by book critic Sam Anderson) his outlook is nonetheless entirely unpretentious. The Mezzanine, his debut, includes long passages about straws and shoelaces, for instance. (It also includes, in an extensive digression about paper towel dispensers, a mention of Friendly’s.) And, in fact, Baker’s occasionally rococo style is perhaps not at all inappropriate to a place where one can have for lunch or dinner a Fribble and a Fishamajig.

That’s nice and all, except I also read this in Barrett’s essay:

What’s fascinating—or appalling?—reading all of these reviews and profiles is that my sneaking inclination that Baker was just accelerating the old male novelist gaze into straight-up porn turns out to be his completely, unashamedly, fully confessed motive all along.

Here’s what he says in his New York Times Magazine profile, written by the grandmaster of literary softball, Charles McGrath:

“You want to have some surprises and some literary value,” he said. “After all, I’m in the novel-writing business. But it has to be arousing. A book with this level of smut, filth, whatever—there would be no point if it wasn’t arousing to write. There’s nothing like writing a sex scene. You’re writing a little slower. You’re in a world that you’ve invented, and you’re slowly describing it. It’s a turn-on, no question. It’s self-seductive.”

Now for all I know, Baker was writing the non-porn parts of House of Holes at Friendly’s—except that there appear to be no non-pron parts, which is part of the problem with the book. So you tell me: do you really want to be the dude in the adjacent booth while a big-bearded, vaguely husky guy like Baker is self-seducing?

Javier Marias Is a Sexy Author

I’d like to introduce the first in a new series of ebooks published under the auspices of The Quarterly Conversation. The book is called, Lady Chatterley’s Brother, with the rather chatty subtitle, Why Nicholson Baker Can’t Write About Sex, and Why Javier Marias Can. It is co-written by me and longtime Quarterly Conversation contributing editor Barrett Hathcock. It will be available to the public on Monday, October 17, exactly 2 weeks from today.

So here’s the deal: I’ve long made my love of long essays known around here. From books like Nicholson Baker’s U&I to Barthes’ S/Z to the work of Geoff Dyer, William H. Gass, Michael Martone, DH Lawrence, and plenty more, the long essay has a pretty awesome reputation as the place critics go when they’re ready to write in a more creative way.

And that goes a long way toward explaining why I’ve decided to start publishing long essays in the series “TQC Long Essays.” These are going to come in at around 20,000 words each–roughly 70 pages. In my opinion, that’s way too much for your average webpage, not quite enough for a printed book, but an ideal length for an ereader. For the series I’ll be bringing on people who I think have something to say, and we’ll be talking about the interesting authors and questions of contemporary literature.

These aren’t free. 20,000 words takes a lot of work to write, and I like to think it takes some skill and dedication to the critical craft to be able to write at that length and have it be worth the time. So, we’re starting this first ebook off at the modest price of $2.99, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

As to the book itself–you’ve got 10,000 words of me writing on Javier Marias and 10,000 words of Barrett writing on Nicholson Baker.

The project got started when Barrett realized that House of Holes was going to be yet another sex book from Baker. He groaned, told me that Baker just doesn’t get good sex writing, and I asked him why. As we started talking, it struck me that Marias understood sex writing for precisely the reasons Baker didn’t. And we were off.

If all this is ringing your readerly bell, then we’ve put together a bit of a teaser for you (sorry, I’ve spent the past 3 months studiously avoiding all double entendres). You can read excerpts of the essays here.

And don’t forget–this isn’t just for you people who have jumped on the portable device bandwagon. There are plenty of programs that will let you read ePub and Amazon Kindle books on whatever computer you may be using.

I’ll be talking more about this as we approach October 17. If you’re a book reviewer and are interested in an e-galley, send me an email.

On Sex, Literature, Baker, and Ballard

I’ve seen some flimsy logic in my time, but Elaine Blair’s review of House of Holes in The New York Review is pretty flimsy. The first two-thirds of the review are taken up by a description of the book, which is fine enough. Blair basically describes it as nothing more than straight pornography, albeit written with Nicholson Baker’s characteristic facility.

In the final third of the review, as if suddenly realizing that the book should do something more than just be high-class fodder for your personal pleasure, Blair strikes out into new territory. Noting the book’s complete separation from anything resembling reality–that the book, in fact, has nothing to do with anything involving sex in any known reality on planet Earth–Blair declares:

This will feel, to many masturbators, like a loss. But having banished these troubling reprobates from his paradise, Baker can draw a magic circle of wholesomeness around sexual situations that we normally interpret as scenes of defilement. I’m thinking, for example, of the woman in the House of Holes who makes “an emergency top-level request for dick” and welcomes into her hotel room eighteen tumescent men who masturbate over her while the woman exhorts them to “Jerk it out! Ice my cake, dickboys! I want to feel like a breakfast pastry!” In the cheerful, egalitarian atmosphere of House of Holes, a woman’s desire to be covered in the semen of many men seems as unexceptional as her desire for intercourse or cunnilingus.

Essentially, a world where all sex is considered a priori wholesome simply because it fulfills one’s desires, is a utopia.

From here, Blair makes the leap that because in this world women need not feel any shame whatsoever at any kind of sexual fantasy they may have, Baker has constructed a realm that fixes sex. This is the basis of the “utopia”:

The wish behind Baker’s idyll is to be rid of the notion of female sexual abjection. Not only does this allow women greater sexual abandon, the book implies, but it also liberates men: the male characters don’t have to worry about offending or abusing women, nor do they have to worry about calling them for a second date.

Blair goes on to encourage that parents of her generation give the book to their children so that they can learn to have the joys of completely guiltless sex, with Bakers many illustrative scenes providing the education.

I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous on at least two grounds: first of all, how in the world would robbing women of any sexual mores whatsoever be a sudden liberating force that would make of sex a joyous nirvana of joussaince for both men and women? Call me stupid, but I have the idea that the very thing that makes sex enticing is the transgression of those norms, or at least the fact of having to contend with some sort of friction (excuse the pun) along the way to the eventual orgasm. And isn’t this argument for complete sexual freedom just a rehash of the arguments of the ’60s that . . . well, that opened the legal and moral pathway for books like Baker’s, that aspire to nothing greater than pornography?

But secondly and moreover, why would this instruction be helpful to anyone? Quite clearly, even if women wanted to have semen squirted on them by some 20 men without feeling any guilt or shame in the least, they couldn’t simple choose to throw off all of the cultural and personal baggage surrounding such a feat and do it. That’s why Baker’s book is pure fantasy, as Blair herself recognizes. It doesn’t pertain to any reality that any of us live with, and so its value as education is zero.

This, to me, seems to be the problem with Baker’s book: it presents sex as disconnected from any social, historical, gender, etc, etc, etc reality one could imagine. Except in a gross anatomical sense, the people having sex in this book are hardly human. How could such a book be valuable in any way other than a sort of erudite, high-class pornography? I suppose that’s fine if that’s what you want to read it for, but I would think that the critics of America would ask for more out of a writer of Baker’s stature.

We might usefully compare this book to J.G. Ballard’s Crash, which is also about establishing a revolutionary sexual order. The very success of that book is that it relates the bizarre sex envisioned by its narrator and friends to the world in which they–and we–live. More than that–it presents their vision of violent, technologically inflected sex as an argument about the culture that they live in, and where it is headed. Rather than simply abandon the world, as Baker does, it takes the reader on a journey from what we would recognize as our own world into a counter world dominated by the signs and sights understood by those who grasp the logic of Crash. It initiates us into a new order, which, I think Ballard would argue, is in some very important ways reveals the order that we already live in.

But Baker, cleanly severing his fake sexual world from anything having to do with ours, reveals nothing.

House of Holes

The new Nicholson Baker novel (or rather “book of raunch”) sounds good, but ultimately, bad. The B&N Review:

This can’t be called a failure, though. Apart from the sex and the fantasy, House of Holes never meant to have anything in common with The Fermata. The latter is a novel, one whose full-blooded narrator, Arno Strine, struggles with complex emotions and desires as he abuses his power over time. House of Holes is no novel. It announces its impure intentions right on the cover: This is raunch. The characters are cartoons, their exchanges—at once deadpan and overwrought—a spoof of porno movie dialogue and a foil for the dizzying absurdity of Baker’s sexual scenarios.

Structurally, the book is simple: A succession of men and women find their way, through various bizarre apertures—e.g., a laundromat dryer—to an anything-goes sexual Wonderland called the House of Holes. Like The Fermata, this smacks of science fiction. In the opening scene, a woman named Shandee is visiting a quarry with her Geology 101 class. There she finds a hand attached to a forearm, which signs its way into her handbag. She gives the arm, which is anything but dead, a notepad. The hand writes, “Please…feed me some mashed-up fish food in an electrolyte solution.” The arm “had a solar panel for energy.” We learn that it once belonged to a certain “Dave” . . .

Personally, I think “house of holes” is trying way too hard . . .


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

Shop though these links = Support this site

Copyright © 2018. Powered by WordPress & Romangie Theme.