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Preview: The Elegant Variation

The Elegant Variation

A Literary Weblog. A Guardian Top 10 Literary Blog * A Forbes "Best of the Web" Pick * A Los Angeles Magazine Top Los Angeles Blog "Really brave ... or really stupid" - NPR

Last Build Date: Wed, 07 Feb 2018 16:51:11 -0800



Wed, 07 Feb 2018 16:51:11 -0800

After nearly ten years, my second novel, MEMENTO PARK, is about to come out, with blurbs from Salman Rushdie, Marisa Silver, Min Jin Lee and Joseph O'Neill, as well as starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Please come...

TEV 2.0 - Launch of the newsletter edition

Thu, 16 Oct 2014 09:32:11 -0700

At its height, The Elegant Variation had over 50,000 daily readers. It gave me the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of books I loved, like Rob Riemen's Nobility of Spirit, and it engendered many stimulating, international conversations...

2015 PEN Emerging Voices Fellowship now accepting applications!

Wed, 28 May 2014 17:42:25 -0700

I cannot think of a more beneficial fellowship for a writer to apply for than the PEN Emerging Voices Fellowship. It's a yearlong intensive for new writers who lack access that includes close mentoring, exposure to literary events, classes at...

Literary LA: Must-See Events

Wed, 28 May 2014 14:05:47 -0700

Two major events in the days ahead, both essential and not-to-be-missed. First up, there's Donald Antrim and Karl Ove Knausgaard tomorrow night at the Hammer. And next week there's Edward St. Aubyn at LAPL's ALOUD series. The summer is getting...

John Banville reads in Los Angeles

Mon, 03 Mar 2014 09:48:49 -0800

In all the years I have been reading Banville, he's only made one Los Angeles area appearance. This week he makes his second, as part of the excellent Writers Bloc series. He's in town - appropriately enough - to discuss...

My Top 10 Banned Literary Essay List

Wed, 19 Feb 2014 13:41:01 -0800

I have not ranted in a good long while, so: Herewith this date, any further essays on the following topics are banned, due to my colossal lack of interest: Anything that mentions The Great American Novel. The whole literary vs...

Nota Bene: Dept. of Speculation

Wed, 15 Jan 2014 13:47:16 -0800

"When we visit his parents, my daughter tries to learn to swin at the indoor pool. I watch her serious, scrunched-up face, eyes closed, counting one stroke, two strokes. A few days later, she is up to fifty. Then my...

Novel Revision Techniques at the Writers Studio

Wed, 15 Jan 2014 13:39:13 -0800

Hey all, there are still a few seats left in my upcoming Novel Revision Techniques class at the Writers Studio with the UCLA Extension Writers' Program. For those who don't know about the Writers Studio, it's an amazing four-day intensive...

Updated L.A. readings calendar ...

Fri, 12 Jul 2013 18:36:23 -0700

Click on through and check out the updated listing of L.A. readings, including Nicholson Baker, Aimee Bender, Cathleen Schine and more!

Andrew Sean Greer reads at Vroman's tonight

Thu, 11 Jul 2013 10:38:20 -0700

The only thing that could keep me away from Andrew Sean Greer's Pasadena reading this evening is teaching, and unfortunately I have a class tonight. But otherwise I would make the trek for Greer's only L.A. appearance to hear him...

First Trailer for "The Sea"

Thu, 11 Jul 2013 10:18:27 -0700

Many thanks to Keith Arsenault who knows my Banville obsession all too well and alerted me to the first trailer for the forthcoming adaptation of John Banville's Booker-prize winning "The Sea" ...

A Twitter Project: Unpacking the Library

Fri, 28 Jun 2013 18:01:56 -0700

Tonight I officially begin unpacking my library yet again. Along the way, I thought I might grab some select titles and tweet the opening sentence or 140 characters of the opening sentence, whichever comes first. Nothing more. No titles, authors....

Banville's marginalia (vs. my own)

Sun, 19 May 2013 11:32:32 -0700

I am forever urging my students to mark up their books, to scribble, deface and decode. It's only by interacting with the books we admire at the sentence level that writers can begin to unlock the secrets of how one's...

A TEV Facelift

Tue, 14 May 2013 14:46:53 -0700

I'm working at classing up the joint a little bit, streamlining, that sort of thing. A grand revival is being planned.


Thu, 21 Feb 2013 15:07:12 -0800

My review of Maria Konnikov's MASTERMIND: HOW TO THINK LIKE SHERLOCK HOLMES went live over at the Barnes and Noble Review while I was away for the Jerusalem International Book Fair: "You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive" is the...

Readings list update

Fri, 11 Jan 2013 18:37:40 -0800

I've updated the Worthy Readings sidebar, so if you're reading this via RSS or email, please do click on through and check out Marisa Silver, Luis Alberto Urrea and more!

Five authors to watch in 2013

Fri, 11 Jan 2013 18:12:48 -0800

The Telegraph looks at five young authors to watch in 2013. TEV favorite Sheila Heti is on the list, but I'm especially intrigued by Owen Martell's novel Intermission: A slim, rigourously nuanced book, Intermission tells the story of how [Bill]...

"My parents were born old" - John Banville on parenthood & dotage

Mon, 07 Jan 2013 09:28:39 -0800

In a long and uncharacterstically personal essay in the Daily Mail, John Banville reflects on old age - his own and his parents': Thinking back on the lives of one's parents and making comparisons with one's own life can be...

Daniel Mendelsohn at LAPL **Highly Recommended**

Sat, 27 Oct 2012 09:46:16 -0700

Daniel Mendelsohn, one of my favorite critics working today, will be at LAPL next month as part of the ALOUD series, in conversation with Jonathan Lethem. Not to be missed. Reserve a spot for the November 8 event, which is...

"They give the culture a new face."

Sat, 27 Oct 2012 09:41:23 -0700

Like many others, I lamented the passing of the mighty Jacques Barzun, one of the last in a line of scholars still interested in addressing a general public, as he did most memorably in his justly celebrated From Dawn to...

Literary Death Match at the Hammer

Tue, 10 Jul 2012 09:42:18 -0700

I'm a proud alum of LDM and will be among those checking out tomorrow's installment at the Hammer Museum. Participants include Henry Rollins and Rex Pickett, and it's free, which is my favorite number. Details here. See you there.


Tue, 29 May 2012 08:22:30 -0700

A classic example of counter-programming: My review of Eric Erlandson's Letters to Kurt is now live at the excellent Los Angeles Review of Books. I include this anecdote not to parade my musical taste (or lack of it) before you,...

The Previously Unexplained Chess-Writing Link ...

Wed, 16 May 2012 12:03:46 -0700

I've been a chess obsessive for years but it's only thanks to the great Charles Simic that I can begin to justify all the wasted hours ... There’s something else in my past that I only recently realized contributed to...

Panel Appearance Saturday

Wed, 16 May 2012 12:00:12 -0700

I will be appearing on a blogging panel at the 2012 conference of the Biographers International Organization. I'm still not completely certain why biographers would like to hear from me, but they asked, I was free, and so here we...

Worthy Readings Sidebar Updated!

Wed, 16 May 2012 11:54:53 -0700

The Worthy Readings sidebar has been updated through July with a slew of new readings ranging from Richard Ford to Dana Spiotta to Charles Yu to ... Steve Almond. You read that right. Click through and check out all the...

Ben Fountain Reading At Vromans - Recommended!

Wed, 16 May 2012 11:36:56 -0700

Ben Fountain is in town this evening to read from his long awaited novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. You can find all the details about the reading here. Adam Langer's glowing review can be found here. The book's not...

SOUNDS ABOUT RIGHT - Irony, Self-Awareness and Troy Patterson

Sat, 03 Mar 2012 12:24:47 -0800

In his review of John Leonard's greatest hits collection, Troy Patterson - without a shred of irony or apparent self-knowledge - approvingly quotes the master: "Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she...


Tue, 28 Feb 2012 10:38:33 -0800

Apropos l'affaire D'Agata, I came across this amusing and illuminating bit in John McPhee's paean to fact checkers, Checkpoints, collected in the superb Silk Parachutes (FSG 2010): In "The Third Man," in the immortal Ferris-wheel scene high above postwar Vienna,...

ANATOMY OF A TWEET: Deconstructing the awesomeness of Bret Easton Ellis

Mon, 27 Feb 2012 11:29:19 -0800

I'm a quick study ...


Wed, 22 Feb 2012 23:10:14 -0800

If you're in the Santa Monica area Thursday night (or even if you're not), do stop by the Barnes and Noble where Claire Bidwell Smith will be reading from her lauded memoir The Rules of Inheritance.


Mon, 20 Feb 2012 13:41:37 -0800

I tried a new exercise with my Novel IV students a few weeks ago. I brought a dozen books to class, pretty randomly selected from the titles that arrive every month. I did limit the selection to novels, and tried...


Mon, 20 Feb 2012 13:28:19 -0800

After years of resisting the tide, I officially started using my long-dormant Twitter account today. I have some mixed feelings about this event. On the one hand, my attention span feels fractured enough already, and I'm reluctant to deform it...


Fri, 17 Feb 2012 14:06:21 -0800

Not sure how this one escaped my notice - when in doubt, I now blame everything on the kid - but there's a must-see reading this Sunday. Edward St. Aubyn, whose Patrick Melrose novels have been rapturously received from likes...


Mon, 06 Feb 2012 15:23:12 -0800

It is my very own lost cause. Time after time I've taken to these pages to decry the idiocy of Elmore Leonard's inexplicably lauded 10 Rules of Writing, to absolutely no avail. No decent interval can pass before someone out...


Wed, 01 Feb 2012 16:32:28 -0800

The Worthy Readings sidebar is now current. Ish.


Wed, 01 Feb 2012 12:15:53 -0800

I've never cared much for David Gates's criticism. His intelligence is obvious but his reviews tend to be hobbled by smugness or self-regard - how I have longed to reach out and pop the "I" key from his keyboard -...


Fri, 16 Dec 2011 12:37:03 -0800

I find myself immensely and unexpectedly saddened today at the passing of Christopher Hitchens. We sat up late last night watching video clips on C-Span and Youtube, and downed a surprisingly tearful Lagavullin (neat) in his honor. It seemed the...


Sun, 13 Nov 2011 22:37:27 -0800

From this Sunday's New York Times Book Review, Leah Price on "The Subconscious Shelf": The French gastronome Brillat-Savarin began “The Physiology of Taste” (1825) by declaring, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” You...


Wed, 26 Oct 2011 17:59:18 -0700

My review of Nurrudin Farah's Crossbones has been published over at the Barnes and Noble Review. It starts thus: Most Americans, if they think of Somalia at all, know it only from Black Hawk Down, the 2001 film adaptation of...


Wed, 26 Oct 2011 13:33:33 -0700

Some years back, I wrote a brief reminiscence of my friend and writing teacher Steven Corbin. I've revised and expanded that essay as part of the Los Angeles Review of Books' Writers on Teacher series, and it's now online. An...