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inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #0 of 30: Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 7 Mar 01 13:42
    
"Not only do the fine young critics in the "Salon.com Reader's Guide to
Contemporary Authors" filet their subjects with finesse and wit, but this
erudite and bitchy collection of profiles, reviews, bibliographies and
writers' reading lists also makes for compulsive reading."    -- Vanity Fair

      -------------

Laura Miller is the New York Editorial Director of Salon.com, and the editor
(with Adam Begley) of Salon.com's "Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors."
Laura's criticism and book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book
Review, The Washington Post Book World, The Village Voice, the San Francisco
Examiner and the New York Observer.

The Salon.com "Readers' Guide"  is intended for those remarkable and
slightly mysterious individuals who read contemporary fiction for pleasure.
It is an excellent resource that can answer the question that matters most
to someone holding a novel in his or her hands  -- "why should I read this?"
With all original writing by an international cast of talented young critics
and reviewers, this book provides a guide to over 200 of the most
fascinating writers of our time. The editors began with a list of about 500
authors, and let their contributors' enthusiasm and curiosity be their guide
in the selection of who would be included. Thus the reviews are passionate
and fun, and resemble nothing of the ordinary mainstream literary criticism
that is anemic by comparison.

Laura will be interviewed by Susannah Indigo. Susannah is the
Editor-in-Chief of Clean Sheets Magazine (www.cleansheets.com), a weekly
literary magazine devoted to sexuality. She is also the editor of the
upcoming literary zine, Slow Trains (www.slowtrains.com), and  she is a
contributor to Salon.com.  Susannah's fiction is widely published, and her
first book, "Oysters Among Us," will be released this spring.

Please join me in welcoming Laura and Susannah to inkwell.vue!
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #1 of 30: Susannah Indigo (sindigo) Fri 9 Mar 01 07:34
    <scribbled by sindigo Fri 9 Mar 01 07:36>
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #2 of 30: Susannah Indigo (sindigo) Fri 9 Mar 01 07:38
    

Hi Laura, and welcome - we appreciate your taking time to talk
here about "Salon.com's Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors,"
emphasis, as you say in the preface, on the word _reader_.
I like that the book was written for us, the "mysterious
individuals who read contemporary fiction for pleasure,"
and I think the book is a fun and fascinating read.

We'll start by offering the link to the full preface, which
is posted on Salon, for those interested in knowing some
of the detailed background -

 http://www.salon.com/promo/feature/2000/08/18/salonguide/index1.html

To summarize everyone's favorite question (why is author X
not in this book?!), the preface says you limited the
selection first by only authors who wrote fiction in English,
whose major works were published since 1960(with a few exceptions),
and who had published more than one book. Then the contributors
and editors took over, and narrowed down the list through
curiosity and enthusiasm. You have some marvelous entries
from contributors in the Reader's Guide -- even one entry
that's going to make me read an author I normally wouldn't think
I would like (David Bowman, by contributor Stephanie Zacharek) --
and I found myself following who the writer of the entry was as
much as who they were writing about.

So perhaps we should begin with that question first:  can you
tell us a bit of the background on the contributors to the
book, and how you went about choosing them, and how you feel
they shaped the book? Also, you contributed on a number of
entries yourself - were these your favorite choices, or were
you left with some that others were less than enthusiastic
about, as with Alice Walker?
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #3 of 30: Laura Miller (lauram) Fri 9 Mar 01 08:16
    
Thanks, Susannah. It's a pleasure to be here.

I want to add, before I answer your questions about the book, that
this weekend I'm finishing up my reading for the National Book Critics
Circle Awards. I and the 24 other members of the NBCC's board are
picking the 5 winners this year, in the categories of fiction,
nonfiction, criticism, biography/autobiography and poetry. So I may
offer some updates on that, if anyone's interested; choosing the
winners of awards like these is something a lot of book critics do at
one time or another, and the process can be very strange.

So, on to your questions. The idea for the book came, originally, from
Dwight Garner. He'd been toying with the idea, mentioned it to me, I
got fired up about it and convinced David Talbot that Salon should do
it. From the beginning it was a collaboration between the two of us,
and Dwight and I did most of the final list-honing and assigning
together.

Dwight was the original editor of Salon's daily book reviews, back
when they were called "Sneak Peeks". Longtime readers of Salon may
recall the many terrific pieces Dwight wrote for us back then. But I
also credit Dwight with creating the original feel and approach of
Salon's book criticism. I think the closest critical analogy is Pauline
Kael: a lively, direct, conversational voice; a knowledgable but not
scholastic sensibility; not overly invested in high/low divisions;
belief that pleasure is an important aspect of art.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #4 of 30: Laura Miller (lauram) Fri 9 Mar 01 08:33
    
Most of the contributors to the Guide were already contributing to
Salon, though some, like Stephanie, weren't able to do as many entries
as we hope since they were *still* writing for Salon! We had our list
of dream contributors, who were first and foremost people whose reviews
we enjoyed reading for their own sake -- for the sake of the reviews
that it. We picked people whose taste we trusted, but most of all we
wanted the book to be fun to read in its own right. Those people, if
they were rash enough to agree to do all that work for what was
relatively little money, got to see the early versions of the list of
potential entries, which was about 500 names long. We asked them to
suggest adds and deletes, though to our chagrin they all had suggested
adds and no one suggested deletions.

We hoped to have about 300 entries, but the final book has about 225.
The expense of paying the contributors and the publisher's need to keep
the book to a reasonable length forced us to winnow it down. Which
turned out to be good for me because Dwight left for the New York Times
Book Review shortly after we assigned the entries and I edited the
whole thing myself, except for the parts I wrote myself, of course.

The contributors shaped the book because we really let their
enthusiasms, as well as our own, dictate which authors were included.
Some contributors were so enthusiastic about certain authors that,
after the money ran out, they volunteered to write an entry for free.

Most of the entries I wrote myself were either my own personal
favorites, or authors I was curious about, or, in a couple of cases,
authors who I was concerned wouldn't get good entries otherwise. I
wrote the Martin Amis entry partly because I feel that he has some
interesting flaws as a writer that I was pretty sure wouldn't be dealt
with by the contributors who were eagerly volunteering to write about
him. Then there were a handful more who I wrote up because no one else
would do it or because Dwight wasn't able to fulfill all his writing
commitments on the project (given the workload at his new job, I'm
appreciative that he managed to do as many as he did).

With the Alice Walker, I kept asking people to do it and I'd get this
groan. That was interesting -- here's this very successful, well-known,
prize-winning literary novelist and none of the book-loving people I
knew (and I know a lot, and they're diverse) could stand her stuff. So
I dove in, and it was not pleasant.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #5 of 30: Gail Williams (gail) Fri 9 Mar 01 09:15
    
My mom, a retired librarian, commented to me on that.  She said that she 
had always disliked Walker's writing and nobody ever talked about it.

I on the other hand had read some short articles by Walker which I'd liked,
and had a more positive impression, not having tried the novels.  I bet you 
got some interesting "fan mail" after writing that piece.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #6 of 30: Laura Miller (lauram) Fri 9 Mar 01 12:47
    
One of the funny things about challenging a person or idea that's seen
as a PC sacred cow is that so many people say "That was brave!" or "I
bet you got a lot of hate mail about that". In fact, all I got was mail
saying "That was brave!" and "I bet you got a lot of hate mail about
that". Hardly anyone objected to it

I'm not particularly familiar with Walker's nonfiction, but maybe
that's a better format for her. The problem with the fiction is that
it's so polemically-driven that the characters feel like automatons in
thrall to the author's agenda. It makes you wonder why she bothers with
fiction at all and doesn't just write screeds.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #7 of 30: Susannah Indigo (sindigo) Sat 10 Mar 01 10:27
    


That's interesting -- I would have thought you'd get negative
feedback on Walker also. The Walker entry is online, for anyone
who wants to read it  --

http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2000/08/11/guide_walker/index.html

Reading this also gives an excellent idea of how the entries
are arranged in the book, for those who haven't read it yet. Except
most of them are much more flattering.

I'm curious, Laura -- you say that some of the contributors
were so enthusiastic about certain authors that they volunteered
to write the entry for free. Can you tell us who some of those
authors might be? Surely they are a must-read!

And, please do give us some inside scoop -- how is the process
sometimes "very strange" during the selection of the National
Book Critics Circle Awards?
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #8 of 30: Laura Miller (lauram) Sun 11 Mar 01 09:33
    
Lydia Davis is one of the writers we included because the contributor
wanted to write it badly enough that he waived the fee. And, I think,
Guy Davenport is another. Several people have mentioned that they're
particularly glad to see the Davis entry. I'm not familiar with her
work, but  I do know other readers who don't like it at all. 

I see that more and more: writers that someone I know just loves to
pieces but that other people don't care for at all. I think that's
behind the inertia that most of us feel when certain friends are raving
to us about how we *have* to read a particular book. I suppose there
are other friends who are more persuasive simply because you know you
have similar tastes, but just last night I was at a dinner party and
the editor in chief of a literary publishing house was praising a
William Maxwell novel as "an absolutely exquisite cameo" and I knew
right then that I'd probably never read it! Something about that
description had the opposite of the intended effect on me.

At this same dinner, I ran into someone else from the NBCC and we were
complaining that even though it seems there are many great nonfiction
books published each year, somehow the list of finalists in our
nonfiction category is so unthrilling.

I'm holed up with 5 doorstops here, including Laurie Garrett's book
"Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health" and Frances
FitzGerald's book on the Star Wars program. Then there's "Crucible of
War" a 900 page history of the French and Indian War and a really
stultifying and cryptic 800-page Proust biography. I keep wondering how
we wound up with such a lodgy list.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #9 of 30: Linda Castellani (castle) Sun 11 Mar 01 09:47
    

How's the Laurie Garrett book?
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #10 of 30: David Gans (tnf) Mon 12 Mar 01 12:03
    

cindywales3@yahoo.com writes:




I have concerns about the trashing of Alice Walker,
and am quite willing to say so. The first concern
comes from the footnote, which says "There are many
finer African-American women writers ....".   We don't
say this about white males, ("There are many finer
White male writers) and I find the implication
disturbing.

Then, I am surprised by the reference to Alice
Walker's "clumsy prose" -- why exactly do you suppose
so many people read Alice Walker, many of whom
consider hers to be a poetic voice ?

And last -- why did you break your own rules and
include her if nobody wanted to write about her? I
can't help but wonder if the nastiness that comes
through in the entry was a pleasure to write?

Thank you,

   Cynthia
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #11 of 30: Susannah Indigo (sindigo) Mon 12 Mar 01 12:33
    


I'm curious about that last part myself --
is there a certain enjoyment in writing "erudite
yet bitchy" (Vanity Fair's words) criticism?

I've looked at the National Book Critics awards
online (and they appear to be taking place...
tonight! No wonder you were holed up with
these books.).  The award info is at:

http://www.bookcritics.org/

for anyone interested. I didn't see any
background on how the nominations/finalists
come to be, so I'm curious how it is that you
do end up with such "unthrilling" books.
Although I'd bet that there are people here
on the WELL who probably consider "Crucible
of War" somewhat thrilling.

We have a couple of questions that have come
in about the "red-hot center" introduction and
trends in publishing, but I'll wait until you
have a chance to answer the Walker question
first.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #12 of 30: M. J. Rose (anewanais) Tue 13 Mar 01 06:07
    
Hi Laura - I'm curious about the mantle of critic and how well it fits
and where it feels too tight? What are the issues you have have - what
are the total joys?
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #13 of 30: Laura Miller (lauram) Tue 13 Mar 01 06:36
    
On the Alice Walker: It seemed important to write about her since she
consistently makes bestseller lists, won the Pulitzer and because she's
been informally designated as a spokesperson for African-American
women writers, which is, I think, unfortunate. 

From the beginning, Walker has been touted for writing about the
experiences of African-American women -- that's been presented as one
of the major reasons why her work is significant -- so it seems kind of
disingenuous to then claim that those themes aren't an important
factor in considering her work. Readers who aren't familiar with many
African-American women writers can quite easily be given the impression
that she's the one to read first, and if they do that they can quite
easily be given the impression that African-American women writers
aren't as a whole very good, and that's not true. I'd say the same
about, say, Robert Coover, to a reader who's curious about the
metafictionists. I think there are better practitioners of that form,
just as there are better writers who testify to the lives of
African-American women than Walker.

I don't think African-American writers, or any other writers who
belong to minority groups, benefit from a sacred cow status being
attached to someone like Walker. It creates a climate of cynicism in
which readers suspect that different critical standards are being
applied and that no one will tell the truth about writers of color for
fear that a negative review will be labeled racist. And it's
unnecessary, since there are so many good African-American writers,
several of whom are written up in the Guide.

I know some people find Walker's prose poetic, but Rod McKuen was a
bestselling poet in the 1970s, too. I don't know how to explain either
phenomenon; I just know how to tell the truth as I see it.

I have to run off to the NBCC's morning board meeting now, but I'll
post more later about the whole awards-picking process. I took some
notes and I think it'll be interesting.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #14 of 30: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Wed 14 Mar 01 07:41
    
I'm going to curl up with this on the weekend, but till then I just have
some quick impressions about the organization.

There was a table of contents but it didn't list the authors, I'd recommend
doing an author list in this area if there are any more editions of this
book.  At the back of the book there is a listing of authors and I noticed
that there was an Austin guy listed so I looked for him in the index and
both references were to other authors, perhaps this is the only glitch in
the indexing.

Nit picks aside, it looked like a great book to get down with and I'm
looking forward to spending some time with it this weekend.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #15 of 30: Susannah Indigo (sindigo) Wed 14 Mar 01 09:09
    

Alice Walker is on Oprah's list of "favorites," of course, which begs
the question -- what are your thoughts about Oprah and her popularity
as a book critic?
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #16 of 30: Laura Miller (lauram) Wed 14 Mar 01 15:09
    
OK, sorry to be AWOL, but the NBCC really throws me behind schedule
with work.

The index is comprehensive. In other words, it lists authors and
contributors and other writers mentioned in author entries. I've got no
regrets about not having a list of author entries, but I do now wish
that the book had running heads to make it easier to look for author
entries.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #17 of 30: Laura Miller (lauram) Wed 14 Mar 01 15:12
    
Back to what Susannah asked about negative reviews. They're definitely
easier for most critics to write; it's easy to be specific about what
doesn't work, but what does work tends to be ineffable and hard to
describe or capture. It simply is. Also, there's such an inflation of
hyperbole that every positive adjective is worn pretty thin by now.

The other thing about negative reviews is readers just LOVE them. I
was on a panel with a noted critic recently and he said, and I concur,
that you can write a huge rave about a writer and no one you know will
mention it to you; you'll get no mail. But write a negative review,
especially of a writer considered well-respected, and the phone rings
off the hook. No one remembers your positive reviews. Everyone
remembers when you decimate something.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #18 of 30: Laura Miller (lauram) Wed 14 Mar 01 15:28
    
So, picking the NBCC Awards this year was both gratifying and
frustrating. Here are our winners:

Fiction: Being Dead by Jim Crace
Nonfiction: Newjack: Guarding Sing-Sing by Ted Conover
Criticism: Quarrel & Quandry by Cynthia Ozick
Biography: Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert Bix
Poetry: Carolina Ghost Woods by Judy Jordan

The 25 board members of the NBCC pick the 5 winners from lists of 5
finalists in each category. There's been a tradition of heated and
intemperate argument, but this year was supremely civil. I (who missed
most of the fireworks having joined only 2 years ago) gather that this
is because certain contentious individuals have since departed. It was
still stimulating though. I'm always impressed with the high level of
discourse about the books. It's a bit like the fantasy many people have
of what literary life is like, even though most of the time literary
life is nasty gossip.

With the fiction award it was fascinating to see how it broke down
between people who like economical, tight, very crafted fiction/novels
and those who prefer the sprawling and energetic if occasionally messy
books. Obviously, the first group won out this time with the Crace, a
book I feel is not quite the best from an author I like, but also I
book I've come to feel is more to admire than enjoy. I noticed also
that most of the critics coming out for the spare fiction also tend to
be the most involved in the poetry awards. I have a friend who thinks
that literary fiction will soon go the way of poetry, appealing to an
ever smaller and more specialized readership. I guess this wouldn't
really bother the poetry people, since they're comfortable in that
community, but it depresses me.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #19 of 30: Susannah Indigo (sindigo) Thu 15 Mar 01 09:35
    
 So your recommendation is not to rush to read the
Crace book? Or perhaps just stand and... admire
it...in the bookstore?

That is a bit of a depressing vision for the future
of literary fiction -- what would you attribute this
to if it should happen?

And while we're on the future of fiction, we have two
long questions that came in from a reader outside
the WELL -


from L. Schone:


You talked (in excerpts in Salon) about a  "best of
contemporary fiction" article in Esquire from the
early sixties.  Suppose time-compression applies to
the "best of" field as well as to other things, that
"The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors"
is a runaway best seller, and that you're asked
to reprise it in 2020 -- same rules, significant fiction
authors of the prior 40 years (1980 to 2020). Which
of the authors that made the first volume would you
expect to see in the 2020 volume? And what's the hot new
emerging style of the last five or fewer years that
people will be looking back at in 2020 and saying, "sure,
the turn of the century years were mostly dominated by..."

 Also -

Unlike movies and television (at least so far), music
and publishing  have been experiencing a weird economic
change where the cost of producing and manufacturing
have dropped tremendously, mostly because of electronic
assistance in the process, leaving the distribution costs
far exceeding manufacturing, and allowing (in theory,
at least) far faster production of titles. And, arguably
anyway, the internet may have significantly reduced the
cost of distribution (although not the cost of promotion)
-- MP3 titles (in music), Salon.com and Clean Sheets (in
publishing) being good examples of this. Is that going
to further change the character of the "great American
novel?" Is it likely to result in further Balkanization
of the market? Could we be seeing "regional best
sellers," or at least best sellers targeted to unusually
narrowly defined special interests? As things move
(as they seem inevitably to be) toward a more electronic
format -- downloadable electronic books and the like --
will the ability to keep slow but steadily selling
volumes without much in the way of physical inventory
costs (5 megs of storage as opposed to 16 cubic feet
of expensive warehouse space) increase the ability of
a path-breaking author/book to "find its audience" over
time, or will it accelerate the firefly-like attention
span of distributors, hoping to find that new equivalent of
the Ken Starr report in the commercial arena (multiple
million copies downloaded in 48 hours -- that sort of thing)?
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #20 of 30: Laura Miller (lauram) Thu 15 Mar 01 15:35
    
Some people will *love* the Crace book, as many of my colleagues on
the NBCC did. I liked it; I know some readers who *hated* it. I think
it depends on how you respond tempermentally to fiction that's not
strongly story-driven, and also how you feel about the idea that the
material universe is the absolute limit of reality. (Crace is a pretty
militant atheist.)

Oprah is fine. I like Oprah. She's picked some very good books, and
some more sentimental stuff that's not to my taste, but she's giving
readers what they want: book recommendations from someone whose
judgement they trust and a way to add a social dimension to the
solitary and increasingly isolated experience of reading. The
publishing industry should be as smart as Oprah. If that's possible,
and I expect it isn't.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #21 of 30: Laura Miller (lauram) Thu 15 Mar 01 15:40
    
Working for an internet co. has cured me of any tendancy to make
predictions. I honestly can't say who will be the writers seen as
"major" tomorrow. Obviously, nonfiction is really grabbing most
readers' attention right now, from adventure stories like "A Perfect
Storm" to the Dave Eggers memoir. I suspect that will continue because
it's just so much easier for readers to sport the good/interesting
nonfiction. There are barrels and barrels of fiction being published
and it's really hard for readers to find books they like in the
avalanche.

The new writers I'm watching closely are Eggers, who has a new novel
on the way and a publishing company that's trying to do something
really innovative, Jonathan Lethem, Zadie Smith, Michael Chabon, Colson
Whitehead (whose new novel "John Henry Days" will, I expect, rock the
world in May) and especially David Foster Wallace.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #22 of 30: Laura Miller (lauram) Thu 15 Mar 01 15:48
    
Oh, I should also have added to the above that I don't think there
will ever be the "red-hot center" described in that Esquire article.
The fiction market is very much a matter of niches now, and I don't
think that will change.

I think electronic books are promising, but the technology and the
marketing strategy have a long way to go. There are right now too many
companies doing too many things that are too much alike and too similar
to traditional publishing. Then, oh god, the reviewer's nightmare, the
vanity press resurgence seen at iUniverse and XLibris. As I wrote in a
recent Salon story, no one goes into a bookstore and says "Is this all
you've got?" There are already enough books -- what we need is a way
to bring people to the books they'll really love. I have a few friends
who I've made some recommendations to, which is a very tricky business.
People's tastes are idiosyncratic. The ones whose taste I've sussed
out keep coming back to me demanding more, more, more. There's a hunger
for that.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #23 of 30: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Thu 15 Mar 01 20:32
    
Readers may love negative reviews, but, in my experience, over the
years it's much more fun as a reviewer to have people come up and say
"That is so cool, I would never have discovered Jonathan Carroll (or
whoever) if it wasn't for you!" then to have someone come up and say
"Boy, you really destroyed Book X there." Book X will prosper or perish
and it's rare that a review makes a ha'porth of difference in the long
run, but turning on readers to an author who matters to them is
something that lasts forever.

 
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #24 of 30: Martha Soukup (soukup) Fri 16 Mar 01 00:00
    
The thing is, bad books are usually bad in common and boring ways, whereas
every really good book is good in its own unique way, which makes it much
more interesting to try to figure out and explain.
  
inkwell.vue.106 : Laura Miller - Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
permalink #25 of 30: Laura Miller (lauram) Sun 18 Mar 01 07:27
    
It definitely feels better to know that you've won new readers for an
author who you really love, but it just doesn't happen that often. This
one critic I mentioned before really pulled out all the stops to get
people to read Alistair MacLeod, but no one so far has thanked him for
his trouble; instead they're all thrilled that he spanked Margaret
Atwood. I think readers like negative reviews partly because they
suspect that reviewing hyperbole has become so inflated. Every first
novel is a "luminous' near masterpiece.
  

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