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

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 […]

The List of Contemporary English-Language Authors to Read

With a big assist from the commenters on this post, here’s what I think I need to read. Point out everything I missed in the comments. And please let me know of anyone overrated that I shouldn’t waste my time with.

Lorrie Moore. People were pretty clear that I should avoid her latest novel and give the stories a try. So I suppose I’ll start with her first collection, Self-Help.

Brian Evenson. Seems like the place to start with Brian Evenson is Last Days (an endorsement that seems to be echoed in Matt Bell’s excellent essay), although I already have a copy of Fugue State, so I might just start there.

A.M. Homes. I’m not really sure where to start with her, but I found Music for Torching at a garage sale yesterday for a buck, so that’s probably going to be it.

Curtis White. At that same garage sale (actually, it was a “block sale,” I found Requiem by Curtis White, one of the American postmodernists I haven’t yet gotten to.

David Markson. Speaking of White, David Markson is a known quantity, but he should definitely be on this list.

Chris Adrian. I have yet to find anyone who doesn’t absolutely love this guy’s work. I myself was amazed by The Children’s Hospital. Looks like next I’ll go with A Better Angel, the latest story collection.

Percival Everett. This guy has been in the back of my mind for a while now. Definitely someone to try out. I was recommended to start with American Desert . . . any ideas?

Kevin Wilson. Was told to give this guy a shot in the company of George Saunders (someone I should read a little more systematically). So is Tunneling to the Center of the Earth the place to start?

Margaret Atwood. Reading the coverage of her most recent novel, I am reminded again of what a strong body of work she has put together. I should really at least get started with her. The Handmaid’s Tale is the obvious place to start, but from there where to?

Steven Millhauser. He definitely seems like someone doing good work. Is Dangerous Laughter the one to start with?

Aleksandar Hemon. Seems pretty clearly worth keeping an eye on.

Tom McCarthy. His body of work is only three books deep at this point, but Tom Mccarthy definitely seems like someone to watch.

Joe Meno. His latest
has been getting good reviews, and he has a lot out there. Worth it?

Ron Currie, Jr. Although he has just a short story collection and a first novel to his name, we’ve given each very strong reviews, and he seems like an extremely promising author.

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26 comments to The List of Contemporary English-Language Authors to Read

  • Millhauser: You should read either Edwin Mullhouse or Martin Dressler
    the original post referred to American authors, otherwise I would have repped, again, for Gabriel Josipovici.

  • I also recommend Hugo Wilcken, whose two novels, The Execution and Colony, are both excellent.
    And someone mentioned Lydia Davis in the original post… she’s well worth reading, all of it, as far as I know (not having yet read the new collection).

  • I’m with Richard on Edwin Mullhouse. And for stories, The Barnum Museum is great, too.
    Re: Kevin Wilson: yes. Quite a few of the stories are online. “Blowing Up on the Spot” in Ploughshares is the one I’d start with . . .
    http://www.wilsonkevin.com/publications/

  • Curtis White: I highly recommend Memories Of My Father Watching Television.
    Atwood: The Edible Woman was one of the books that really changed my life as a teenager.

  • I decided it didn’t make much sense to restrict it to the U.S. Yes, Josipovici definitely.

  • Haven’t read him, but he was in my mind while I made up this list. So, I take it you would advocate to add him?

  • Stan Izen

    You should definitely include Lydia Davis and Anne Enright, both outstanding authors.

  • Great list — I’ll resist adding to it, because this is plenty for you! (Actually, no, I lie. I would not be me if I didn’t recommend one book by Samuel Delany: Atlantis: Three Tales, which you might really like, or be utterly indifferent to. Hard to say.) I’d definitely say you should check out Laird Hunt, though I’ve only read The Exquisite. Don’t give up on Brian Evenson if at first you don’t like him; a lot of people, myself included, respond very differently to each of his writings. Last Days didn’t do much for me, but I like some of the stories in Fugue State and The Wavering Knife very much, and prefer The Open Curtain to any of his other novels that I’ve tried. I know serious readers who feel entirely differently about Evenson, loving all the stuff I don’t and vice versa. It’s an interesting effect for a writer to have.

  • Well, then, let me be the first to not be amazed by Chris Adrian. I loved the first few stories in A Better Angel–I remember very clearly feeling thrilled and horrified and impacted by them–but as the book continued my opinion changed drastically. It’s one thing to have one or two jawdropping stories about troubled and ill children, but when every single story carries that plot germ, and most follow the same arc, it seems repetitive and formulaic. The book made me feel voyeuristic and morbid, and maybe I was just in a particularly sensitive phase of my mind, but I found it all troubling, and not in a good, “oh I’m thinking so much and deepening my mind” sort of way.
    A few months ago I tried his first novel, Gob’s Grief but put it down after only about 20 pages–not for the reasons above, but because I found it profoundly dull.
    Lorrie Moore is only okay. Sort of a b-author for me. I’m always happy to be reading her, but move on quickly without any lasting effect. I remember a couple of pleasing sentences from her stories, but can’t recall any one standout title.
    So, the short story format is clearly not my favorite. But I must say that I’ve been thrilled by everything Aleksander Hemon has written, especially his short stories are excellent. If you haven’t read them I’d definitely recommend seeking them out. I’ve only read one of his novels, The Lazarus Project, and though I liked it, the stories are definitely not to be missed. The Question of Bruno.

  • DN

    I also do not think that Chris Adrian is that great. I read Children’s Hospital and was really disappointed. I was so put off by the bad writing and weak characteres (in my opinion, of course) that I doubt I will ever read anything by him again.

  • Peter

    Joe Meno is certainly worth it, Hairstyles of the Damned in particular. I haven’t heard great things about the recent book but Hairstyles really captures Chicago’s southwest side.

  • Def. It’s hard to say where to start, except to recommend that you not trust any one of his books to give anything resembling a complete portrait of him as an artist. I mean, obviously, but, in his case, I think you can see a real sense of evolution and risk taking place over his four novels.
    FWIW, I have some thoughts on his latest book here:
    http://www.identitytheory.com/lit/dixon_ray.php

  • Tom McCarthy should be more widely read on the basis of his Remainder alone. Amazing novel.

  • Thanks for the link–I’ll have a look.

  • Kim

    Great list, I’m printing it out and looking at some of your selections and those of the commenters. Also, not a Laurie Moore fan, but others are new to me. Now, just find a great garage sale . . .

  • Alison

    I’m so happy to see Percival Everett on this list! I might start with The Water Cure.
    Brian Evenson’s The Open Curtain does things with fiction I’ve never seen done before. The same goes for Tom McCarthy’s Remainder. Both amazing books.

  • I recommend Wells Tower’s “Everything Ravaged: Everything Burned”. Deborah Eisenberg’s review of it in the NYRB is also a pleasure to read.

  • Not Lorrie Moore (I just don’t get why people rate her but lots of women do in particular); Homes I would go with Safety of Objects, or Things You Should Know). Millhauser I read and find curiously empty and Bad Barthes. Tom McCarthy’s remainder is a genuine original but with a Hollywood ending (not a spoiler, just think he mucked up the ending, much as Ford did with Lay of the Land. The only Irish Short stories book I can think of that might fit into this company is Mick McCormack http://www.amazon.com/Getting-Head-Stories-Mike-McCormack/dp/0805053719/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253788624&sr=8-1

  • I would start with P. Everett’s latest, I am Not Sidney Poitier. I think it’s the best novel out there built around the Who’s on First joke.

  • Right on with the Lorrie Moore stories and Percival Everett in particular–they’re wonderful.
    Writers I’d add to your list, if you haven’t already read them:
    Andrea Barrett (especially short stories)
    Amy Hempel
    Kelly Link
    Edward P. Jones
    Binyavanga Wainana
    Marilynne Robinson
    Ursula Le Guinn
    Anne Michaels (the novel “Fugitive Pieces”)

  • Scott,
    Great list. I would try to find as early a Percival Everett book as you can and start there. He really doesn’t have any that I’d suggest passing on.
    I love Last Days but still think The Open Curtain may be the place to start with Evenson if you’re looking at a novel. His stories are great too though.

  • I gotta plump for The Barnum Museum, too, or The Knife Thrower (whose “The Dream of the Consortium” does almost everything Martin Dressler does in a tenth the space or less). I also have a soft spot for Millhauser’s gentle, Bradbury-esque Enchanted Night.

  • I would second/third the rec for starting with The Open Curtain re: Evenson. It’s just an outstanding piece of work, and I think is a good precursor for reading Last Days.
    Regarding Chris Adrian, I’d have to agree about the short story collection. Most of the stories in A BETTER ANGEL are really good, and one of them completely blew my socks off, but as a collection it becomes atonal, or maybe monotonal – there’s actually a line, in one of the later stories of the collection, that is so encapsulating of the same repeating story germ that it feels like you’re getting hit over the head with the repetitiousness of it. I was left with a sense that Adrian may have gone back to that particular vein of story material one too many times, and that whatever he comes up with next will need to be pretty divergent from the prior stuff, or it’ll be stale.

  • Oh, and: McCarthy’s REMAINDER? Blew the socks off of the socks of my socks.

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