Category Archives: Hooray Fiction!

A Library of Babel

Born Translated

Just when you think you know what a novel is, Rebecca L. Walkowitz comes along and screws it all up.

In Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature, Walkowitz argues that it is becoming impossible to say what the original version of a novel is. That’s because many novels–like those by Junot Diaz, Mohsin Hamid, Jamaica Kincaid, and others–are being released in multiple languages at once. So, as far as readers and the marketplace are concerned, the translations are just as valid as the “native” language version. There are even cases, like with J.M. Coetzee’s Childhood, where a translation (Dutch) gets published before the “original” (English).

In this globalized age, where multiple editions of each novel proliferate, Walkowitz says we have to revise our understanding of what the novel is. The novelist’s work is becoming detached from its native language and turning into something multifaceted and polyvocal, something that nobody, unless they speak countless languages, will ever fully apprehend.

Thanks, Obama.

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What About Jean Louise?

Jean Louise

I almost didn’t read Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman because of what the reviews said about Atticus, who transforms from an ACLU-ish lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird to a Klan meeting attender in Watchman. But when I read to the very end of page 278, it wasn’t the proto-Tea Party Atticus that irritated me. What bothered me was that early reviews of Watchman allowed Jean Louise to be eclipsed by her father, as if Atticus were the whole point of this story.

I don’t disagree that Watchman is an inferior literary work. How can it not be? It’s possibly a draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, which was among a handful of books that re-defined female possibility for me when I was growing up poor, white, and in perpetual fear of losing my mother to an illness that eventually killed her. Scout Finch showed me what it meant to be brave and to thrive in absence of a mother. In my sometimes-bleak girlhood, Scout was both who I wanted to be and who I wanted to become: independent and able to transcend the limitations that life handed me.

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Straight Outta Normal: Six Thoughts on the David Foster Wallace Movie

FA review tag

Last Friday, the New York Times Sunday Styles page published “A Brief History of the Tough Star Profile,” reviewing notable celebrity press takedowns from Lillian Ross’ 1950 New Yorker piece on Ernest Hemingway, to Tiger Woods telling “puerile and sexist jokes” in GQ in 1997, to the most recent (and orders of magnitude less interesting) Esquire piece on Miles Teller. I don’t know who Teller is or why he’s famous, but he was quoted this month comparing his penis to a highball glass and being generally dickish. He’s probably more famous now because of it.

These kinds of profiles represent the extreme version of what David Foster Wallace was fixated on and deeply fearful of during five days he spent with Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky in 1996. The possibility that Lipsky could pick and choose from hours of conversation to portray pretty much any Dave Wallace Rolling Stone wanted came up again and again while the two men were together. We know because, while Lipsky never ended up writing a profile, he ultimately chose to publish the vast majority of the conversation as Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. The book has since been made into the movie The End of the Tourwhich I had a chance to see this weekend. Rather than add to the many straightforward reviews done by people who do that better than I can, here’s what I want you to know:

The movie is really good. It’s especially good if Continue reading


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Crowd Cover

Infinite Jest turns 20 in 2016, and to mark the anniversary, the book’s publisher Little, Brown is asking readers to give the book a facelift by submitting a new cover design.

IJ Cover

Submissions will be accepted starting tomorrow and running through September 15, with the winner to be chosen by the Wallace Literary Trust (meaning they probably won’t choose your design featuring  Jason Segel as Wallace). The winner will get a $1,000 American Express gift card and “the opportunity for your original cover to be used as the front cover of the 20th Anniversary edition” of the book.

Wallace himself was ambivalent about the book’s cover, according to his interviews with David Lipsky in Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself:

[Closes it, looks at cover. Clouds and sky.]

This was my major complaint about the cover of the book. …Is that it looks — on American Airlines flights? The cloud system, it’s almost identical.

[On safety booklet for 757]

Oh, that’s funny. What did you want instead?

Oh, I had a number of — there’s a great photo of Fritz Lang directing Metropolis. Do you know this one? Where he’s standing there, and there are about a thousand shaven-headed men in kind of rows and phalanxes, and he’s standing there with a megaphone? It wouldn’t have been…Michael [Pietsch, Wallace’s editor at Little Brown] said it was too busy and too like conceptual, it required too much brain work on the part of the audience….

Because you were making a metaphor on the cover?

No, I just thought it was cool —

There has been some truly great artwork created to honor Infinite Jest over the years, and it should be really cool to see what people come up with for this contest.

And if you’re interested in what’s inside the cover, check out our Infinite Jest Liveblog.

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Wittgenstein’s Mistress

Wittgenstein's Mistress

It’s frustrating! Rewarding! Brilliant! Difficult!

If you’re intimidated by the prospect of reading David Markson’s famous novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress, maybe you should bring a friend along.

That’s what Kelsey Osgood did.

Kelsey is a contributor to The New Yorker, The New Republic, Salon, and Vice, but even she didn’t feel up to the task of reading Wittgenstein’s Mistress alone. So she read it with Nemira Gasiunas, a Philosophy PhD candidate at Columbia University, whose qualifications for understanding a novel based on the ideas of Ludwig Wittgenstein include “a very sage-sounding British accent.”

Osgood / Gasiunas

Osgood / Gasiunas

Now you can bring Kelsey and Nemira along as you read Wittgenstein’s Mistress. Divided into five parts, their smart, funny, occasionally exasperated commentary will help you tackle one of the most enduring novels of our time.

Just grab the book and read along.

Eighty Dollars and No Sense (Pages 1-50)

Alone Again, Naturally (Pages 50-100)

Maybe He’s Just Fucking With Us (Pages 100-150)

The End is Nigh (Pages 150-200)

The Ends (Pages 200-240)

Good luck!

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Why I Will Be Watching the David Foster Wallace Movie

92Y Ticket

This Friday, nerds and friends of nerds in the vicinity of “select theaters” will finally have to decide whether or not they are willing to go see The End of the Tour, the movie covering the days David Foster Wallace spent with Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky at the close of the promotional tour for Infinite Jest. The movie has been controversial, from the casting of comedic actor Jason Segel as Wallace to the disavowal of the project from the Wallace estate. Good people (again, mostly nerds) are wrestling with the question of whether they should go see it.

Until last night, I myself was one of those people/nerds.  Continue reading


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A Horse is at Least Human, for God’s Sake


J.D. Salinger made an appearance on BoJack Horseman. He was working in a tandem bike shop.

Read more at A.V. Club.

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Check Your (Literary) Privilege

photo by Chester Higgins Jr.  / The New York Times

photo by Chester Higgins Jr. / The New York Times

Jess Row is stealthily becoming our most subversive and progressive literary critic.

You probably know Jess Row for his fiction—The Train to Lo Wu and Your Face in Mine—or maybe for the beautiful little piece he wrote for Fiction Advocate not long ago. But over at The Boston Review, Row has been publishing a series of critical essays about privilege and point of view in literature. These essays are so calm, so deliberate, and so authoritative, that unless you read them all at once, you might miss how comprehensive and devastating Row’s critique really is.

In “The Novel Is Not Dead,” Row takes issue with other critics–mostly James Wood, David Shields, and Benjamin Kunkel–who assert that the best writing is engaged in depicting “reality” or “realism.” Observing that when they call for greater “reality” in fiction, they are often reinforcing their own idea of what reality is—white and privileged—Row accuses these critics of being “dogmatically bigoted.” He writes, “We need critics who set impatient standards, ask uncomfortable questions, and maintain an omnivorous appetite for the unfamiliar, the awkward, the angry, the untoward. Instead, we have a gated community, a velvet-roped garden party, a Brooklyn vs. Cambridge fantasy baseball league.”

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