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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Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

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Naked Singularity

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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

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.

  • [[there.]] by Lance Olsen December 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen is the author of two recent works, [[there.]] and Theories of Forgetting (FC2). The second presents three narratives in a clearly fictional mode while the first offers day-to-day thoughts on living in another country. We rightly suspect that any artist’s memoir or diary ought to be viewed as written with a prospective public in mind, no matter ho […]
  • Noir and Nihilism in True Detective December 15, 2014
    "It’s just one story. The oldest. . . . Light versus dark." Spanning 8 episodes between January and March of 2014, HBO’s runaway hit True Detective challenged the status quo of contemporary crime drama. The show has been widely celebrated for its philosophy, complexity, and visual aesthetic. Co-starring actors Matthew McConaughey as Rustin "Ru […]
  • The Colonel’s World December 15, 2014
    Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born 1940) is considered by many the living Iranian novelist, a perennial Nobel Prize candidate. Dowlatabadi wrote The Colonel some thirty years ago, because in his own words he had been “afflicted.” The subject forced him to sit at the desk and write nonstop for two years. “Writing The Colonel I felt a strong sense of indignation and pa […]
  • Mr Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn by Alessandro Baricco December 15, 2014
    Alessandro Baricco’s well-crafted, elegant prose seems as though it should create the impression of distance, or of abstraction; instead, the reader of Mr. Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn becomes wholly implicated and immersed, drawn into a dreamy and idiosyncratic world that blurs the division between reader, character and writer. As readers, we expect that th […]
  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash December 15, 2014
    "The paan shop leads to the opening of a tunnel, full of the creatures of the city, and the tears and spit of a fakir." In a single opening line, Uday Prakash sets the scene for the politically incisive, yet intimately human stories of The Walls of Delhi (translated brilliantly from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum). Lest the fakir suggest otherwise, t […]
  • The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation December 15, 2014
    In a speech reprinted in the book, Heim makes a self-deprecating joke about whether the life of a translator is worth reading: “What does a translator do? He sits and translates!” The Man Between serves as a book-length retort by laying bare all the things Heim did: these include persuading the academy that translation is a scholarly (in addition to a creati […]
  • The Prabda Yoon Interview December 15, 2014
    Yes, I think people are not comfortable anymore to write in this straightforward, traditional way, especially the younger, more progressive writers. So it’s interesting—you have social commentary, and you also get a little bit of structural experiment. You have themes that are very, very Thai. I’m actually very interested to see what new writers will come up […]
  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck December 15, 2014
    For Jenny Erpenbeck, no life is lived in an indisputable straight line. Which is why, in her new novel (new in English, though published in 2012 as Aller Tage Abend) she approaches the narrative as a series of potential emotional earthquakes, some which take place, some which might have taken place, all of which reveal something of how political turbulence p […]
  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
    Once, at a writers symposium, William Howard Gass remarked that to substitute the page for the world is a form of revenge for the recognition that "you are, in terms of the so-called world, an impotent nobody." There is inarguably no contemporary writer of American stock in whose work one might locate a more ambitious war of attrition between innov […]
  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
    Luiselli’s first novel, Faces in the Crowd, translated into fluid English by Christina MacSweeney, is the perfect illustration of this attitude toward fiction writing. Narrated in short sections spanning multiple storylines and the better part of one hundred years, it uses "[d]eep excavations" to expose the empty spaces in two lives, those of a you […]

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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