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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.


  • A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

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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