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.

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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.

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

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Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.

Interviews from Conversational Reading

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

  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić September 15, 2014
    As Drndić reiterates throughout the novel, “Behind every name there is a story.” And Haya Tedeschi’s story is draped in death. Born to a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism and tacitly supported the Fascists in Italy, Haya was a bystander to the Holocaust. She attended movies while Jews and partisans were transported to concentration camps; she pored […]
  • The Tree With No Name by Drago Jančar September 15, 2014
    At the opening of chapter 87—the first chapter found in The Tree with No Name—Janez Lipnik finds himself up a tree, shoeless, and lost in the Slovenian countryside. He makes his way to a house where he is taken in by a woman teacher who is waiting for her lover, a soldier. It becomes clear we are at the height of World War II. Soon after, we follow Lipnik […]
  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
    Here, at the midpoint of his narrative, Bernhard, the affectless and purposeless protagonist of "The Unseen," experiences existential near-emancipation at dusk. This retreat toward obscurity in terse, direct language—thematic and stylistic markers of each work in the collection—comes immediately after Bernhard’s sister mentions her plans to enterta […]
  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
    In his new book of essays, Berlin Now, Peter Schneider reveals himself as a gnarled Cold Warrior who has been stricken with many of the maladies common to his generation. With the specter of Communism exorcized, his new enemy is Islam. The book is a collection of short interlocking pieces introducing Anglophone readers to Berlin; it is not being published in […]
  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
    “It seemed that the [New Yorker] story—which was in part the result of my dealing with the reception of my novel—had been much more widely received than the novel itself,” says the narrator of Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04. Perhaps this narrator is Lerner himself—at one point he describes 10:04, within its own pages, as “neither fiction nor nonfiction but […]
  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting is a masterful work structured around Robert Smithson’s earthwork “The Spiral Jetty.” Olsen’s novel is comprised of three narrations, written each by a separate member of a family. The husband’s and wife’s texts progress in opposite directions across the book, with each page divided among these two inverted texts; though […]
  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
    In The Ants, we receive a study of existence through ants. That is, there are ants everywhere, ants substituted in every segment of the landscape, yet their behavior seems to reveal something altogether human. Too human. The ants are crushed and disappointed. They are warm and many. They are involved in gang wars and live inside carrot cake. The unique quali […]

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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