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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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.

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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.

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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

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Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

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A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


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    Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedfor […]
  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
    Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Gr […]
  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
    New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, wa […]
  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
    This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countr […]
  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
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  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
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  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
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The Stupid, It Burns

I know the Internet is all about pumping out the most mind-deadeningly contrarian material possible so as to rack up the hate-hits, but for the love of god. Really, New York Times, exercise a little god-damned sense. From the very first sentence this thing screaming “pre-pubescent geek on a power trip running off to the basement with him mom’s computer.”

Paper books are an increasingly archaic relic not long for the world. Consider the fuel consumption alone behind the production of paper, the printing of books and the transporting of these books to bookstores worldwide. If the cloud infrastructures we’re building and the digital screens we’re inventing can alleviate the need for paper, that alone is reason enough to cease and desist.

Oh really? And I suppose that computers and touchscreens are environmentally friendly, correct? Every morning they bow down to the earth, give it a little kiss on the lips, and let it know how much they treasure great Gaia’s continued health, right? They wouldn’t happen to be made out of rare earth metals, would they? And we wouldn’t happen to be quickly running out of said metals because we’re now mass producing computer hardware? And these metals wouldn’t be extremely dangerous and corrosive to mine, produce, and, eventually, throw away in the trash, would they? And the enormous server farms that the cloud is made out of don’t happen to involve the globalized production and distribution of materials, not to mention the launch of satellites into orbit, requiring very much more FUEL than it takes to ship books, do they?

So where does that leave the humble brick-and-mortar bookstore? Online marketplaces offer far more ease and functionality. In light of that, any bookstore that sticks to its age-old formula of stocking and selling books is headed the way of the dinosaur.

Of course. Because obviously all we want out of a bookstore is “ease and functionality.” Because shopping for books is like shopping for toothpicks.

Bookstores should reinvent themselves for the digital age, offering something that’s impossible to get online: a place to read, not buy, among the presence of fellow readers, not shoppers. The distinction is stark, calling for the transformation from a place of commerce to a place of connection.

That’s actually not a horrible idea, except—bookstores have been doing this for years now, and, shockingly, it hasn’t yet involved burning all their wares so that we can go around reading BOOKS IN THE CLOUD! Because, you know, actually having inventory to sell is kind of important to a business that wants to have goods to exchange for money.

An algorithm can match, with good probability, a book I might like based on books I’ve already bought or read, or even the ones my friends have read. But it can’t suggest a book on a topic I might never have picked otherwise, or put its relevance in perspective.

Wait a second . . . I thought book-buying was all about “ease and functionality”?

But forget that, I have another question: so after the bookstores have jettisoned all their inventory (which, by the way, I’m sure will be a very simple and non-money-burning-process), how exactly do they make money off of selling digital books? Because, of course, it’s really easy to make loads of cash off of selling a product that somebody else owns.

My ideal store would thus evolve to be a place with regularly changing exhibits, like a petting zoo but for books. Mind you, these stores would still sell books, only digitally. Such a change means putting aside the inventory-focused tradition for an engagement-focused service that is increasingly being adopted across retail in different areas. The Apple stores are a good example of this.

Yes, because all of my book-buying friends just LOVE to spend time in the Apple store.

Not to mention, the Apple store sells like three products. It obviously makes sense to orient your strategy around service when you have an extremely limited range of items for sale, and when said items require a high degree of technical know-how to understand. But for god’s sake, Apple can’t even train its Geniuses to give you a straight answer about the differences between the latest models of computer. How the hell are you going to train bookstore employees to be brimming with insight about what books anyone who happens to walk in off the street should buy next? Because, of course, people like that are really easy to find, and you can train them for next to nothing, especially if they get that Ph.D. in comp lit on their own dime. And you can bet that those people are going to LOVE doing impromptu customer service for Amazon when their customer’s Kindle stops working.

It’s an ecosystem waiting to be streamlined.

Because you know this monstrosity wouldn’t be complete without a some buzzwords strung together into a sentence with no semantic meaning whatsoever.

Bookstores no longer have to be bound to the identity of the physical warehousing and selling of books. They have now been liberated by the digital revolution to become a bastion for readers, old veterans and new converts alike.

But, wait a second. If a bookstore is LIBERATED into not actually carrying books, then . . . wait for it . . . doesn’t that mean . . . it’s not actually a BOOKstore any longer? Success! Liberation! Revolution!

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6 comments to The Stupid, It Burns

  • Pat O'Donnell

    OMG. A petting zoo for books? The phrase alone conjures up a mental image that I now cannot get rid of, no matter how hard I try. Beyond dumb.

  • Gs

    I think it’s the ascendency implied which is off-putting here. These guys or those guys should do this or that which would be better than the norm. That seems fine in a public sector context, but very disingenious in a private sector context. Why doesn’t the caller of this, “. . . calling for the transformation . . .”, take on the risk and investment and DO as he contends others should do or he would like to see done? The book/reading industry is open to competition.
    I don’t have much problem with being risk-averse, but neither am I calling on somebody else to take risks I wouldn’t.

  • Michael

    Oh Scott you are too much. Thanks for a chuckle on this cloudy morning.

  • Michael

    Oh now this is rich. His twitter page describes him thus:

    “Thinker. Writer. Philomath and philosopher. Addicted to infornography, ultraculture and intellectual masturbation. Grad student. Awe-junkie. Occasional bard.”

    Where to begin?

  • re: Where to begin? intellectual masturbation, re: Where to end? intellectual masturbation

  • Padraic

    Wow, reading up on the guy, I actually feel a little bit bad for him. It’s a depressingly sad pose – I dare anyone to click through to his creative writing.

    All the blame here falls on the Times.

    Fantastic rant, too.

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