Why We Need Long Critical Essays

I’d like to pick up this long essay thread that I started on Monday when I announced Lady Chatterley’s Brother and explain a little about where I’m coming from with this venture.

I’ve been a practicing critic for a while now, and over the years I’ve had the good fortune to writer better and better reviews and break into bigger and bigger venues. As far as it goes, this is all great: I think reviews can be a wonderful form of writing, and I love to write them (in no small part because it’s one of the few genres of writing that I really excel at). I also love to read them, when they’re done well.

But if literary criticism is to truly play a part in moving literary culture forward, we need more than reviews. Reviews are, by definition, a limited, reactive genre of writing. I don’t mean to say that they’re easy to write at all, or that people shouldn’t dedicate time to doing them well—literary culture needs good critics. But there is a lot, lot more for critics to write beyond reviews.

Good critics need to have vision and sweep just as much as good authors do, and if you look back at the great critics, what distinguishes them is that they have put forward very good ideas that remained viable throughout their careers and have shifted discourse. They’ve also played no small part in the creation and substance of some of the best literary fiction.

Well, this is exactly what TQC Long Essays are about. It’s about working with people whom I believe have a very firm grasp of criticism and asking them to take that next step–to start putting together some really interesting arguments about literature. My hope is twofold: to generate some interesting criticism that is a true contribution to literary culture, and to help some critics in the early-to-middle stages of their career move on to an interesting, bigger project.

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I have started to really enjoy the size of Kindle singles and think that it should be a perfect size for a few reviews. I often have trouble reading longish reviews or essays on my computer due to eye strain, so I eagerly await these.

You know, it would be pretty bad-ass and appreciated if you made a list of recommended critical essays/collections of essays.

My gold standard is DFW’s Consider the Lobster.

The best I’ve read this year was Geoff Dyer’s Otherwise Known as the Human Condition.

Hey Phil:

Great idea! I’ll put some though to it. In the meantime, this is a pretty good list along those lines:


Ditto on the Dyer book; I picked it up on a lark prior to a camping trip in the Kentucky wilderness, and spent half the weekend rather rudely ignoring my fellow campers (i.e. my parents) and laughing at/with Dyer.

[…] the blog Conversational Reading, has been thinking along the same lines as Zimmer. He’s begun a series of long form essays, and I’m interested to see how his experiment turns out. I imagine that audiences for […]


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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