Tag Archives: long essays

Marias Not Much Longer with New Directions

As I’ve made pretty clear, today’s the day that Lady Chatterley’s Brother is available for general sale. You can still get it direct from this site by Paypal-ing me the money. It’s also now online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And you can preview the ebook and get more info here.

It’s more than a little sad that right as I publish a long essay on the works of Javier Marias I discover that he will not much longer be published by the legendary press that brought him to America. It seems that Marias’ contract with New Directions is coming up for renewal and the deep-pocketed Penguin has outbid them.

This, friends, is complete bullshit. New Directions has published Marias since the early 1990s. They had the smarts to realize what an impressive author Marias is, and they had the guts to take the chance that he wouldn’t languish, as do so many worthy international authors that never find the readership they deserve in English. Not just that–they has the worth ethic and publishing savvy to sell him to an American audience and make him work here in the States. And though, yes, New Directions has certainly benefited from their hard work for many years, it is nonetheless entirely wrong that another press can come and buy him up just like that.

Which is to say, go and buy Marias on New Directions while you still can. I’m proud to own all of his books in their ND incarnations. For me, they’ll always be the “true” editions of Javier Marias in English.

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:

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.

THE SURRENDER

The Surrender is Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning his lifelong desire to be a woman.


LADY CHATTERLEY'S BROTHER

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 . . .


THE LATIN AMERICAN MIXTAPE

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.

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