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January 17, 2007

The NYTBR Section and Fiction 4: Literary Fiction and Class

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

At the risk of being over-exhaustive, not to say boring, I'm going to venture a few more postings about the New York Times Book Review Section and its attitudes towards fiction. Maybe they'll be of interest to a few visitors. You can catch up with the first installment here, the second here, and the third here. Today's topic: Literary fiction and class.

* How about poor, beleaguered literature? Doesn't art already come under too much attack in this crass commercial country of ours? Shouldn't we cut literary fiction (and serious fiction of the heavy-on-the-"issues" type) not just a lot of slack but offer it much in the way of charity? Shouldn't we root for the media to pay attention to literary writing? The popular writer, after all, already has the market on her side --

Nonononono! Oh, please God, no!!!

Let's blast this one out of the water as quickly as possible. The literary-fiction / prestige-fiction / "issues"-fiction / NYTBR-fiction world is anything but an oppressed, orphaned, crippled little street urchin. The fact that it has managed to plant such an image of itself in the minds of many intelligent people is a p-r triumph of major proportions.

It's instead an upper-middle-class, ritzy-schools, clubby world. Trust funds aren't in short supply. Parents and other relatives often help out not just at first but forever. Degrees from fancy schools may not be mandatory but are certainly plentiful. Marriages to connected and prosperous people aren't unusual. Institutional support isn't in short supply either. Important connections have often been forged before the first novel is finished.

I'm not talking about individual writers, by the way. Many lit-fict authors squeak by in fringe ways on tiny amounts of dough. They often spend their lives bouncing from crappy creative-writing-teaching job to crappy creative-writing-teaching job. Part of the difficulty of this life, by the way, is watching as the people working in the offices at the universities and foundations make better and more secure money (and needless to say have better pension and health-care plans) than do the writers -- the people whose work is supposedly the raison d'etre for the institutions. Not an easy irony to put up with!

So let's make a distinction between the individual lit-fict author and the lit-fict world. I'm talking about the latter. The people at the publishing houses who publish most of the fiction that the NYTBR section counts as serious are usually from upper-middle-class backgrouns and ritzy schools, and usually do OK for themselves. The profs, critics, and arts administrators who people the institutions that support the lit-fict thing do OK for themselves. Come to think of it, the people at the NYTBR section itself do OK for themselves too. If and when you should spend a few minutes in the NYTBR section's version of the lit-fict world, you'll find yourself in a world where many of the inhabitants know each other, where people award each other grants and prizes, and where people grew up with more money than you did and went to fancier schools than you did. As far as they're concerned, they're the center of the fiction world because ... Well, nobody's ever told them they weren't.

My point here isn't to denounce this world, btw. It's to characterize it more accurately than is usually done. Can we agree that we wish all the writing worlds well? After all, why shouldn't we root for more and better fiction of all kinds?

Though in this series of postings I've been coming at these questions from the point of view of popular fiction, I'm doing so only because I'm in a popular-fiction phase of my fiction-reading life. I got interested in popular literature partly because so many of the NYTBR-y people I knew were contemptuous of it. Could contempo popular fiction really be as awful as they made it out to be? And -- given how little they seemed to know about popular fiction -- why did they feel entitled to make such sweeping generalizations about it in the first place?

Provoked and curious, I began exploring the popular fiction world for myself. It didn't take long before I woke up to 1) the fact that where popular fiction is concerned, TBR-y people don't know what they're talking about (they either don't read popular fiction, or if they do they're casually dismissive of it), and 2) the fact that the popular-fiction world is full of talent, industry, and personality, and it generates a lot of rewarding work.

But I could just as easily be coming at these questions from a more-avant-garde-than-thou point of view. In an earlier incarnation I often did. In those days, I was all about the edge, baby. Arty Euro novellas, avant-garde porn, convoluted experimental stuff, baffling Japanese weirdness, aimless boozy lyricism ... That was my contempo fiction-reading matter. To me at that time, the TBR's version of lit-fict seemed (yawn) intelligent, (sigh) worthy, (urp) respectable ... And just as the TBR pays little attention to popular fiction, it has also paid very little attention to far-out fiction, the kind of work published by such presses as (back in my youthful days) New Directions, Black Sparrow, Grove, Sun & Moon, and Dalkey Archive.

The Dalkey Archive world: ferociously devoted writers and editors performing genuinely difficult stunts for a tiny audience of far-out fanatics ... And with virtually no recognition and / or discussion of their work from the NYTBR section. The popular-entertainment world: honest craftspeople delivering honest entertainment to a live and interested audience ... And with virtually no recognition and / or discussion of their work from the NYTBR section.

In other words: The NYTBR section slights the genuinely bohemian, and it gives the back of its hand to the working class.

If this description reminds anybody of today's Democratic Party, well, that strikes me as completely appropriate. Self-regarding careerists and their mascots and clients ... The matchup seems exact. And -- sure, of course, what do you take me for? --- the Republican Party sucks too. But, since the literary-writin' world will remind very few of the Republican Party, let's leave its suckiness for another posting. (The Republican Party won't remind anyone of the popular-fiction or avant-garde fiction worlds either.) Hey, here's a good Robert Samuelson column about how un-serious both parties are these days about addressing substantial problems.

Part of what you're taking in when you read the NYTBR section, in other words, is a lot of preening and class snobbery. This matters a bit because it affects what's produced. I've noticed, for instance, that Italian-Americans often don't do well in the respectable lit-fict world. Despite talent and ambition, they're often shunned, and they often don't last long. I have a theory about why. It's that there's something about the Italian-American thang -- the rituals and courtliness, the often working-class and/or street backgrounds, the macho, the suspicion of intellectuality, and the love of textures, melody, and hand-crafting -- that makes the lit set wince. It's a thang that often works spendidly in showbiz: in music, performing, and movies. It can work well in the genre-writing world as well. Ed McBain, one of the giants of American crime writing, was born Salvatore Lombino. But the lit world, I'm afraid, finds the Italian-American thang crude and primitive. As a result, there's 'way too little Italian-Americanness present on the lit-fict shelves.

But back to my currently favored lit-fict vs. popular-fict model. Here are a couple of typical cases. These are profiles that, although I've made them up, are ones that anyone who has spent time in the New York City publishing world will recognize.

Let's have a tale of the tape. On this side of the ring, a lit-fict woman author. She went to an Ivy ... She's lived in the East Village for a few years ... Mom and Dad help her along ... Her older brother, the surgeon, chips in too ... She's fascinated by herself and her friends. Their traumas and monologues and quirks represent, she's sure of it, some previously-unseen, hard-to-pin-down (but significant!) frame of mind ... She indulges in the fantasy that her sexuality is complicated ... And she finally squeezes out a literary novel about it.

Since she knows some people in publishing -- school connections, after all, and that doctor brother was roommates once with someone helpful on a board somewhere -- her novel is published. Since she knows how to get herself invited to the right parties, she's respectfully reviewed too. Sales are pathetic, but that's to be expected: America's such a crude place where real art is concerned, isn't it?

While at work on her second novel -- and it takes her five years of high-minded agony to finish a 250 page novel -- our lit-fict author marries a stockbroker. Raising the kids, tending the apartment, chasing the grants ... Well, it's a lot, y'know? Even when you have help. The part-time teaching positions and the stays at writers' colonies suck up energy too. By the time she's in her 50s, with only four books behind her, our lit-fict author has essentially given up fiction-writing. But -- manicured and massaged, and righteous in her feelings about how America fails to respect the arts -- she still cuts quite a dramatic figure. And these days, she spends her "professional" time on faculties and on prize-giving boards, handing out grants and appointments to people who remind her of herself. She yaks a lot about how necessary it is that significant fiction be difficult.

Over on the other side of the ring we have a popular-fiction woman author. State schools, marriage at a young age, kids while in her 20s, living in the boonies. But she's talented, and god knows she's determined. She gets up every day at 5 .m. to type out her thousand words. And over the course of ten years -- and after a dozen rejected novels -- she finally turns herself into a professional writer. It's a tough field: you have to turn out at least a novel a year (and preferably more) to remain viable. But, year after year, she digs in and meets her quota. This author never gets rich from her writing either. At 10 grand a book how could she? Aside from the money, she also has no connections and no relatives on boards; she's also never met anyone who works for the TBR. She wouldn't know where the Upper West Side is. But she has her fans, and she keeps at her work even though she's reviewed and discussed only in specialty outlets and by readers on Amazon. When approached, she's generous with encouragement and tips.

Now, which of these two authors should we feel is more worthy of our sympathy and support?

Let's see: well-positioned, unconsciously snobbish, self-regarding, not-very-productive, high-minded, and powerful ... Or everyday, accessible, productive, uncomplaining, accessible, generous, and dealing in material that regularly delivers real pleasure ... Hmmmm.

To me, it's like being asked to choose between giving my sympathies to Sofia Coppola or to a struggling worthy gal who's working two jobs. Sofia may be a nice person and she obviously has some talent ... But, y'know, she's doing fine already. Our hard-working entertainer-gal, on the other hand, could use a little recognition -- some warmth, and maybe even a few pats on the back. She is, after all, giving a whole lot more.

And there's something else: It's important to remember that for all we know our reliable-gal creator of popular entertainments might be a terrific novelist. She might be not just more productive but more talented than our Sofia Coppola figure. She might not be, but there's a real chance that she may even be a female version of the Gold Medal novelists I discussed back here. Like them, she's writing pulp for a living, but while at it she may be producing fiction that proves more lasting and influential (let alone more fun) than 99.9% of lit-fict. She might even be as super-fab as Charles Williams.

How will we ever know if no one is paying attention?

Anyway, here's who's on the side of the TBR's version of lit-fict: most of the schools, most of the media, all of the grad schools, all of the foundations, the government grants agencies, and the arts colonies, not to mention the Pulitzer, the MacArthur, and the National Book Award, and of course much of the book-publishing world itself.

By comparison, here's who's on the side of popular fiction: its readers, its writers, and its fans.

Writers of westerns, romances, sci-fi and crime novels -- no matter how first-class and under-recognized they may be (and I give you Richard S. Wheeler and Jack Kelly, master storytellers both) -- seldom get invited to Yaddo or receive appointments to prestigious faculties. And they never receive Genius grants. So, to my mind, saying "Let's cut the NYTBR section some slack because after all it's standing up for the little guy (ie., art)" is like saying, "Gee, I feel so bad about the plight of the poor, I think I'll donate some money to NPR."

Incidentally: Why on earth don't James Patterson, Stephen King, and Mary Higgins Clark kick in 10 mill each and create a foundation for the support of struggling popular-fiction writers? It's a disgrace that they don't.

Steve Sailer calls the latest novel by genius L.A. cop-novelist Joseph Wambaugh "a terrific read."



posted by Michael at January 17, 2007


A couple of things. First, you often seem (though less in this post than others) to be attacking not just status hierarchies of the sort upheld by the NYTBR but any idea of making differentiations based on literary quality. Just because the usual class hierarchy of "literary" vs. "popular" fiction is often deserving of respect does not mean that there is no such thing as true quality. I mean, Joseph Wambaugh is a flat-out fantastic writer! A great writer in certain ways. Just comparing him to other crime writers, he's up there with Raymond Chandler, both guys who transcended genre limits and did profound work. But there are a ton of popular writers that can't write, or (more commonly) can do page-turning plots but write very clunky sentences and have horribly cliched characters (Dan Brown of the Da Vinci Code comes to mind). I would argue that Joseph Wambaugh is an immeasurably superior writer to Dan Brown, has greater literary merit, even though he is less popular. I would also say that Wambaugh is harder to read than Brown, which helps explain why he is less popular.

Second, your personal dislike and hostility for that hypothesized Ivy league lit-fict woman author really shines through. But is that fair? I mean, who cares about all the class resentment you might feel about her life of priviledge? Isn't the proof on the page? Either her books are good, or they're bad. Fitzgerald had a somewhat priviledged background (though upper middle-class more than wealthy), does that mean "The Great Gatsby" was a bad book? Was Edith Wharton a bad author because she moved in high circles?

Also, one of the political notes I seem to find mandatory these days (sorry)...the Republicans have led us into what is shaping up to be a world-historical disaster in Iraq, while the Democrats are just an ordinary corrupt bunch of politicians. There is a difference.

Posted by: MQ on January 17, 2007 10:26 PM


The one writing the better books. It might be the poor working stiff, but sometimes neglected toilers are neglected because they suck.

As far as the NYT goes, I don't bother with the NYT books pages much, or the rest of the paper (or any paper) for that matter, so I can't claim exhaustive knowledge; but I think you mis-state (and understate) the case against it. The NYT isn't devoted to literature at the expense of popular fiction, it's devoted to middlebrow pap. Your points about class-consciousness are close to the mark but surely the dominant impression is one of class anxiety, not preening. The general tone seems to be: this is stuff that your colleagues will be talking about at dinner parties so you'd better know about it in case you don't look like the right sort of people. You can't show off by talking about popular fiction, so that is out, but serious discussion of ideas is unwelcome at the dinner table too, so difficult books are also out.

This is why the NYTBR doesn't seem driven by any clear aesthetic or intellectual criteria at all - as you say, it ignores experimental literature, and it also slights stuff that was not originally published in English. But I think it shows up most clearly in the nonfiction coverage; it is disproportionately devoted to undemanding books about current events which nobody will remember in two years instead of serious intellectual that is likely to endure. (The Atlantic Monthly, for instance, picked as one of its books of the year a 1000 page macrohistory of early medieval europe, which the NYT didn't even notice.)

The general ethos of the NTYBR, as far as I can see, is one of hostility to ideas as well as hostility to entertainment. It's not designed for people who like to think any more than it is for people who want escapism.

Posted by: dominic on January 17, 2007 10:48 PM

Michael – RE: Now, which of these two authors should we feel is more worthy of our sympathy and support?

The answer, of course, is neither. Reverse snobbery is not an antidote to the supposed class snobbery you write about. This kind of thing is as boneheaded as the assertion that rappers are the most authentic “artists” of all because they are supposedly from the street or the hood.

Sympathy and support have absolutely nothing to do with literary merit or even enjoyment. You almost sound like an old style Communist yammering about the inherent moral superiority of the proletariat over the ruling class.

You have gone from beating a dead horse, to flaying that nag and serving it up on a skewer. Your musings here are comically misinformed. Literary culture, both in the U.S. and England, may skew to the middle class, but historically, literary culture has never been synonymous with the upper class. Never. In fact, some artists have been known to embellish their personal histories to appear more “cultured” than their origins.

It’s odd that you begin by making a distinction between “… the individual lit-fict author and the lit-fict world” and then go on to construct hypothetical popular and artsy fartsy writers. In both cases, your supposed “typical examples” are totally wrong.

For example, Barbara Epstein, founding co-editor of the New York Review of Books came from a comfortably middle class, but not elite background. Her father sold textiles and her mother was a homemaker. She attended Girls Latin School and graduated in 1949 from Radcliffe.

By the way, a college friend was an editor at Random House, and was born in Costa Rica from a very modest background. His wife, an editor at the New York Review, has Polish literary bohemian parents, but again, is not from an upper class economic background.

For more fun, do a random walk among fiction winners of the Pulitzer Prize who often have showed up in the pages of NYTBR and here’s what you get (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Joyce Carol Oates was born in Lockport, New York and grew up in the New York countryside. She attended the same one-room school her mother attended as a child. Oates often remarks about receiving a copy of Alice in Wonderland when she was a little girl, and how it affected her life very deeply, growing up on a farm with very few books.

Oates began to write stories with the typewriter she received from her grandmother when she was 14 and later won a scholarship to attend Syracuse University, graduating as valedictorian in 1960.

Arthur Miller, the son of moderately affluent Jewish-American parents, Isidore and Augusta Miller,[3] was born in Harlem, New York City in 1915. His father owned a coat-manufacturing business, which failed in the Wall Street Crash of 1929,[4] after which, his family moved to humbler quarters in Brooklyn.[5]

Because of the effects of the Great Depression on his family, Miller had no money to attend a university in 1932 after he had graduated from high school.[5] After securing a place at the University of Michigan, Miller worked in a number of menial jobs to pay for his tuition.[4]

Saul Bellow's father worked as an onion importer…. In the 1930's, Bellow was part of the Chicago branch of the WPA Writer's Project, which included Chicago literary luminaries as Richard Wright and Nelson Algren.

Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London, England in July 1967, and brought up in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. Her parents, a teacher and a librarian, taught her about her Bengali heritage from an early age.

John Hoyer Updike was born on March 18, 1932 in Reading, PA, a mid-sized manufacturing town located in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. His mother, Linda Grace (Hoyer) Updike, was a homemaker with artistic aspirations, while his father, Wesley Russell Updike, was a beleaguered, though beloved, high-school science teacher. As a child, John Updike suffered from psoriasis and stammering, and he was encouraged by his mother to write. Updike entered Harvard University on a full scholarship.

Artsy types may be upwardly mobile, but hardly come from the upper class.

Incidentally, formerly struggling popular fiction writer JK Rowling is the first person in the history of the universe to become a US-dollar billionaire by writing books. This suggests that aspiring popular writers could benefit more from some time being unemployed and living on state benefits than waiting for your suggestion of a foundation to come to fruition.

Posted by: Alec on January 18, 2007 3:49 AM

Neither gets my sympathy. Each chooses to become a writer, after all. They both may get my custom, however, if I like what they write. As for whose fiction has more merit, we'll be dead by the time that distinction is made.

I also agree with just about everything Alec, dominic and MQ wrote.

Posted by: Rachel on January 18, 2007 9:13 AM

Also, let me add that popular fiction is popular; publishers of mass market paperbacks won't continue publishing a writer who doesn't sell so it's likely Ms. Pulp is earning a halfway decent living.

Who wants to go to Yaddo, anyway?

Posted by: Rachel on January 18, 2007 9:18 AM

I'm in broad agreement with what I take to be your 'ur-stance' - that there's no inherent hierarchy by which literary fiction is superior to popular fiction; that popular fiction may even be more vital and interesting than literary fiction. But it doesn't follow that the NYTBR needs to focus more on popular fiction, any more than the National Enquirer should be reviewing the latest Pynchon. If the NYT is read by comfortably metropolitan middle-class people, why shouldn't its book pages reflect that? Does the NYT have some sort of extra-commercial duty to broaden the tastes of its readership? It's not like popular fiction isn't getting coverage elsewhere. Any number of women's magazines cover 'chicklit' for example. Crime writing gets tons of coverage in the media.

You say you're talking about the whole litfic world of people in publishing, profs, arts administrators etc., not individual writers. Fair enough. But then you go on to give your examples of the litfic/popfic worlds - both of whom are writers. Your litfic writer is an absurd caricature. I'm not saying that someone like her doesn't exist, and yes, there is a tiny niche in the litfic world of slim novels of uptown sexual angst. But it's hardly representative of the litfic world in general. For a start, it's a world that tends to exoticise the "other". (Why else did the JT Leroy scam work so well?) An enduring trend on both sides of the Atlantic has been fictions centring on the migrant experience, for example. Of course an awful lot of the writers catering to the middle-class world of the NYT are going to be middle class themselves, but in my experience they rarely fit your description. They tend more to be square peg in a round hole types, floating from ill-paid job to ill-paid job until they finally strike it lucky with a publishing contract.

Popular novelists not invited to Yaddo? I'm not so sure... I know Patricia Highsmith wrote Strangers On A Train there, and willed all her money to Yaddo...

And why don't Italian-Americans do well in the litfic world? I dunno. Maybe I'll read that Gay Talese essay on just this topic, published as a cover story in the NYTBR a few years ago!

(full disclosure: my novel got a positive review in the NYTBR!)

Posted by: Hugo on January 18, 2007 9:43 AM

Looking at your headline for this post, I have to say that I expected it to be more about the class distinctions found in the readers and customers, rather than the authors. . .

Posted by: Derek Lowe on January 18, 2007 10:35 AM

MQ -- Glad to hear you think as highly of Wambaugh as I do! Amazing writer. I'm not as interested in playing the ranking game as many people seem to be. But my point here isn't to denounce the ratings game, it's (partly) to raise the question: How can you play a sensible ratings game if you aren't paying attention to 90% of the work that's being done? The TBR is like a car publication that makes grand pronouncements about what's of worth in the car world while only ever sampling Mercedes sedans. They may be nice cars, but why don't the editors try some other driving experiences too?

Dominic -- I think avoiding the NYT generally is often good policy, or at least good self-maintenance. Sadly, though, what the TBR says about books and fiction (and what its attitudes are towards it) counts. It's taken seriously; it's used as a tutor and guide; the publishing and academic worlds follow it closely; other publications view it as an authority and take cues from it; writers aspire to be mentioned in its pages ... It plays a big role in shaping "serious" writing, reading, and publishing today. So why not take a few potshots at it? Particulary when it's so easy ... As for the term "literary writing," that's a conventional thing that has nothing to do with what you think is lit or what I think is lit or what history generally will decide was/is lit. In the publishing world, "literary fiction" is understood to mean the kind of thing that the TBR takes seriously and that might win one of the big prestigious prizes. You and I may share a laugh about these judgments. But "literary fiction" is just a conventional label.

Alec -- That's such a spectacular misreading of what I've written that I can only assume that you're either trying to goad me or you have something to say but can't quite get around to it and so attack me instead. Why not cut to the chase and simply put what you have to say out there? You'd save yourself a lot of typing. As a general response to your objections ... So, the fact that you can introduce me to some scholarship students there means that a) Harvard isn't an upper-middle-class place with a lot of social and political connections, and that b) there's no way anyone can characterize Harvard? (In case this wasn't clear, "Harvard" in this example stands in for the lit-fict world.)

Rachel -- Neither needs our sympathy, you're right. But I was writing the posting as a response to something that sometimes comes up, which is the "lit-fict needs our sympathy and charity" argument. As for the "popular" thing -- well, actually your point isn't really accurate. Plenty of "popular literature" doesn't sell very impressively, and plenty of writers of "popular fiction" don't make much money. St. Martins, for instance, used to publish hundreds and hundreds of mystery titles a year. Each one sold around 2000 copies -- St. Martins had worked out some way of shipping a lot of mystery titles to libraries around the country and by virtue of publishing so many titles making a few bucks at the whole process. But 2000 copies is a tiny number, and the writer of a mystery novel that sells 2000 copies is making a really pathetic amount of money on it. Yet there were authors who diligently, year after year, pumped out St. Martins mysteries, four or five or even six a year. That's a not-unusual case of an author of "popular fiction" not selling many copies and not making much money.

Hugo - Congrats on the TBR review! Here's hoping it helped move a few copies. And of course we do share an ur-point. And of course the TBR can cover and publish what it wants to. But why shouldn't I/we point out that the publication's focus is narrow while its claims and influence are broad? As for my examples; well, of course they're absurd caricatures. They're types! I made 'em up! They aren't meant to be real writers (though I've certainly met a fair number of real writers just like 'em). They're meant to illustrate the kinds of people you'll run into surprisingly often in these two worlds. They're a way of characterizing the two worlds. I dunno: holds true in my experience, and it's certainly a better first-sketch starting-point than what's usually peddled. I've been to the Edgars and I've been to the National Book Awards, and I don't think my characterization is an unfair one. Your mileage may differ, of course. But you're getting the general point, which is that the popular-fiction world doesn't have anything like the kind of institutional framework and support that the lit-fict world does (and that the institutional framework of the lit-fict world is often made up of the kinds of people my caricature of a lit-fict woman is like).

Derek -- That's a subject that's worth a lengthy posting in its own right. I wish I knew more about who reads what. Unfortunately, the books and reading world is one of the least-well-looked-into ones imaginable. Market research and analysis are very scarce -- it doesn't seem to go beyond a few basics (older people read more than younger people, women read more fiction than men, that kind of thing). Beyond that, all anyone has is anecdotes and personal experience. Interesting in their own right, though!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 18, 2007 10:47 AM

Great post, MB.

Wow, the early commenters sure got their knickers in a knot. I think they missed a lot of your point.

And "reverse snobbery"? C'mon folks.

Being an avid reader, pretty much all you've talked about rings true. I've read in both worlds (so-called "lit" and "pop"). Your paragraph on the "lit-fict woman author" ("Let's have a tale of the tape...") just nails it.

Yeah yeah, some lit novels are good. Some pop novels are crep.

But overall you've got the societal cause detailed right there.

I was trying to come up with a post describing my reaction to the recent photo collection "A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005 by Annie Leibovitz." but just couldn't articulate my ideas as you did in this post. And I didn't want to let myself in for the lambasting one gets when they try to take the east/west coast elite down a peg for the insular bobble-heads they sometimes are.

The taste left over in my mouth after a solid perusal (of Leibovitz's book) was that of a life of access and privilege that probably had more to do with her success than any indigenous talent (your post in a nutshell).

Her "home" photography sucks. Pick up pretty much anyone's family photographs and you'll see better composition, focus, and so on than you do in this book. And you probably don't have to wade through pictures of an aged, nude Susan Sontag (or anyone nude other than babies, thank God). (Though one wonders why her pubic hair grew in a perfect "V".)

And, folks, don't accuse me of class resentment. I've been in and around all circles, and am quite happy to be solidly Midwestern middleclass in my station in life. All levels of society have their heroes and their villains. (One observation: on average, the very rich and connected are as decadent and pretty much in the same ways as the very poor trashy people - it's where the circle of societal behaviors meets, apparently.)

Good show, MB!

Posted by: yahmdallah on January 18, 2007 10:50 AM

I could not care less about fiction but I absolutely love when you write about it. BTW, I am not bragging about my lack-of-appreciation of literature, just being honest about my intellectual abilities.

Please keep up the great work (and always feel free to post about Architecture).

Ian Lewis

Posted by: Ian Lewis on January 18, 2007 11:38 AM

This whole thing boils down to who you'd like to have a beer with. Some of us wouldn't mind tipping a few with David Foster Wallace, while some of us would prefer the company of Wambaugh. It really isn't about "quality" at all, it's about sensibilities.

Michael, you mention your earlier daillances with more experimental fiction. At the time you were reading that, would you have argued that that type of literature was "better" than popular fiction? Did you disdain or simply ignore popular fiction at the time? And if so, how is your current reading preference and argument for that preference anything other than the result of a shifting sensibility? Is literary fiction merely the territory of youth? Do you write off your earlier interests as youthful exuberance or something?

I'm not arguing for or against the NYTRB, I think it merely serves a purpose, it covers an area of writing that many people are interested in. Some of those people are total effete snobs, but most aren't. Just as some people who enjoy popular fiction are faux-populist boneheads. Most aren't, though.

Posted by: the patriarch on January 18, 2007 11:40 AM

Sorry, one more thing. Someone else mentioned the difference between being able to come up with a good plot and writing a good sentence. I think that distinction needs to be highlighted, not because one is necessarily better than the other, but because some people are put off by writers who write clunky sentence, even if the story they are telling is a good one.

I suppose Dan Brown is the most obvious and recent example of someone who has good story ideas but who writes cliched, clunky sentences. I struggled though The Da Vinci Code only because I was on vacation and the story was a good one. But that kind of writing I normally can't read, not because I think I'm better that those who do like that kind of writing. I just can't do it. It's what turns me off of most sci-fi. Writers like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, really smart people with fascinating ideas and influential style. But the actual writing, in my opinion, is awful.

So yeah, maybe I'm a lesser person for having a preference for a well-turned phrase over a well-constructed plot (although the best books have both). But really, it's just that. A preference.

Posted by: the patriarch on January 18, 2007 11:47 AM

Yahmdallah -- Susan Sontag's pubic hair grew in a perfect V? Cool! Anyway, glad to hear you enjoyed the posting, tks. Liebovitz is a funny case, isn't she? I mean, I think she's talented, if not wildly more talented than lots of other photogs. But how did it happen that she become the pet and the insider she is? Accident of the zeitgeist? Unconscious career shrewdness? But there she is, smack at the middle of it all. As for the "reverse snobbery" thing ... I've always been terrible at dealing with that. You make the point that Bo Didley created some good music, you get in a few jibes at people who turn their nose up at popular music, and someone somewhere is going to accuse you of "populism" or "reverse snobbery," as though you're putting down classical music instead of saying, "Hey, why not recognize that both have something to offer?" What to do about it? Any suggestions?

Ian -- Glad you enjoyed, thanks for reading! Do you bother with non-books fiction these days? Movies, TV? Or are you in an all-facts-all-the-time phase?

Patriarch-- I like your "having a beer" theory! It deserves more exposure in Freshman English than what they usually teach does. As a practical matter, hmm. I've never known in advance who in the arts I'd wind up liking when I met 'em in person. Sometimes I'd really feel a bond with a person's work, then not hit it off at all in person. Other times I'd dislike someone's work then like the person a whole lot. Sad. A general rule that did tend to hold was that popular-fiction authors tend to put on far fewer airs than lit-fict authors do. But there were tons of exceptions to that rule too. As for my own reading habits ... I dunno, they've changed over time. Don't most people's? I don't take myself as being more "right" now than I ever was. Where fiction's concerned, I'm just exploring what interests me and turns me on. Weirdo avant-gardeness used to get me hot; these days I'm running around the popular-fiction world going, "Wow, this is some great stuff!" (For whatever reason, I could never get excited about the TBR's version of fiction. Struck me as dull no matter whether I was looking at it from the avant-garde or popular p-o-v.) But I assume that's what most people's reading lives are like, kind of following their muse. Anecdotally it seems to be a common thing that many people of the spiffy-colleges-English-major type follow (as in actually read) the TBR's version of lit-fict until their early 30s, then drop it. My own interpretation of this is that 1) life happens and who has the time? and that 2) many English major types have developed the habit of reading fiction as a kind of chore and English-class assignment, and that it often takes 'em until they're in their 30s to wake up to the fact that they're adults and are entitled to read what they please. Anyway, how have your own fiction-reading habits evolved over the years? Agree with you totally about preference, btw. A lot of these things boil down to personal preference, don't you find? And what exactly can be said about this? So I tend to enjoy the comparing-notes part of artchat a lot -- "Oh, you dig this? Cool, why? Hey, I dig that, and here's what turns me on about it ..." That kind of thing. But have you tried some of the popular-fict writers whose names have come up around here? Charles Williams, Richard S. Wheeler, Donald Westlake, Ira Levin, Hugo Wilcken, Jack Kelly, Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmith, James M. Cain, Ross Thomas ... These are writers who can tell real stories yet who have nothing to apologize for where their sentences are concerned. But maybe storytelling just isn't what you're into these days. And why should it be?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 18, 2007 11:57 AM

"But maybe storytelling just isn't what you're into these days ..."

That's becoming less true, but yeah, you're right, for years I really didn't care about story, I was more into writers who played with convention and form and style and subconscious musings and all that pretentious crap. And hey, I admit, it IS pretentious, but also interesting.

I also admit, of the writers you mention, I've only read Highsmith, who is fantastic. But I never denigrated popular fiction, either, I just said I preferred the stuff that falls into the literary fiction category. And with 3 kids and a wife and job and all the normal adult stuff, I have less and less time to read, and so I'm even more picky about what I pick up. I'm of the "I only have a finite amount of time" school of reading, so I do try to cram in as much of the "canon" as I can. Perhaps it's that reading isn't really how I unwind. I just can't do it. If I want to unwind and just enjoy a story, I'll pop in a DVD. I'd say I'm a product of my generation that way, but then I know a number of people my age who do read to unwind, my wife included.

On the Liebovitz thing, from what I've read, she's really interesting to hang out with, she's good at ingratiating herself to people and getting them to open up and trust her. This kind of personality is good for both her art and her career. In fact, that kind of personality is good for a career in any field in that it gets you access to the right people. Celebrity photography is particularly all about access, so why wouldn't she be extremely successful at it? Her pictures are more clever than anything and meant for mass consumption, and that's all they're really meant to be. In fact, she is the equivalent of a writer of popular fiction, so by your logic, you probably should be championing her. But then, she does run in social circles covered by the NYTRB. Hell, Susan Sontag was her lover, for chrissakes and who's more NYTRB than Susan Sontag!? So yeah, once again, it comes down to who you'd like to have a beer with. It's a class issue more than anything.

Posted by: the patriarch on January 18, 2007 12:34 PM

Nice post, Michael. I'm not any kind of lit maven, but some of the folks alec mentioned -- Oates, Miller, Updike and Bellow -- hardly strike be as being pure lit-fic play. But as I said, whadda I know?

I wonder how well your argument might describe the NYC-centric Fine Arts world. True, making a painting normally takes a lot less work that pumpin' out 100K publishable words. And the distribution systems differ.

Still, there seem to be "prestigious" art journals as contrasted to "popular" mags such as Art of the West. I suspect the cast of characters in each (at the editorial end) might mirror your writer archetypes. Not so sure about the painters/sculptors themselves.

Unlike you and publishing, I never worked in or around the Fine Arts trade after college. So regret that I have no "insider" perspective to offer. Just an "eternal amateur" and buff.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 18, 2007 1:24 PM

Mozart wrote some of his finest symphonies in a fortnight, and was considered a genius for it. But in the literary world, "prolific" is a pejorative code word that means inferior. Maybe those who think that productive writers are inferior ought to rethink their prejudices. The merit of a novel does not necessarily depend on the time spent producing it. It does depend on the genius of the author.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on January 18, 2007 2:00 PM

What a bizarre display of resentments.

Posted by: Monte Davis on January 18, 2007 2:19 PM

Michael - I have not misread you. I am not the only poster who has noted, for example, that “your litfic writer is an absurd caricature.”

I did more than introduce you to some scholarship students. The authors that I sampled are some of the biggest literary darlings swooned over by artsy types, and over-represented in the NYTBR, but none of them were from privileged backgrounds. Your assertion that artsy fartsy lit-fict types come from the upper class (or even upper middle class) is factually incorrect. Your attempt to link social class and popular literature is factually and historically inaccurate, incomplete and misleading.

Here’s a simple challenge. I listed the Wikipedia link of Pulitzer Prize winning fiction authors. Can you show that the majority of them come from privileged backgrounds?

Yep, Harvard, like Cambridge and Oxford, might stand in for the lit-fict world, and obviously attracts and molds would-be authors, and sets standards, however dubious, for high culture (however you want to define it). But these institutions also gave us Animal House, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Monty Python. The lit-fict world has always encompassed high and low culture.

The National Lampoon movie empire was a spinoff of the National Lampoon Magazine, which by the way, was a spinoff of the venerable (founded in 1876) Harvard Lampoon. One of their best-known products was the Tolkien parody, “Bored of The Rings,” and many of their writers have worked on “The Simpsons,” “Seinfeld,” and other iconic pop culture TV shows. Again, the lit-fict world encompasses high and low culture.

Lastly, while I disputed your ideas, and even mocked your thesis, I have never, will never attack you personally. It is not going to happen.

- the patriarch – RE: This whole thing boils down to who you'd like to have a beer with. Some of us wouldn't mind tipping a few with David Foster Wallace, while some of us would prefer the company of Wambaugh. It really isn't about "quality" at all, it's about sensibilities.

This is a great point and speaks volumes about readers and authors. Years ago I had the great pleasure of meeting Arthur Miller in a small literature seminar at college, and found him to be an incredibly accessible straight-shooter. He was a surprisingly tall and physically robust man, and came across more like a stevedore than a playwright. He would definitely qualify as someone you’d like to have a beer with, but I think that this distinction can be a bit misleading.

There is a local sports reporter, very good and much more responsible than many, who almost obsessively insists that all baseball players should be “down-to-earth” real people who should be willing to open up to him. But of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with their baseball prowess or even their life with their own friends and families. And there is something unpleasant about his insistence that athletes should be expected to please him. It reminds me of how some reporters were disappointed with the great baseball player Joe Dimaggio because he was reticent, “boring” and relatively inarticulate, and could not provide them with a stream of memorable quotes or a continuing spectacle of parties and good times (despite the spectacle of his brief marriage to Marilyn Monroe).

I might like to have a drink with Arthur Miller and some other writers, but this desire is absolutely irrelevant to their talent and work. It’s not like I would ever be able to collaborate with him on a play, any more than I could run plays with Payton Manning.

Posted by: Alec on January 18, 2007 2:34 PM

Patriarch -- The whole adult-life-is-a-crowded-mess thing and how it affects cultural-consumption habits is too much underdiscussed, don't you think? Well, I do. DVDs really are great ways for unwinding with some fiction at the end of the day. Easy on the eyes, over in 90 minutes ... Lots to be said for them. A number of commenters on these postings have ventured the thought that reading fiction for pleasure is going to become an ever-more-specialized taste, and has done so already ...

Donald -- I've often thought it would be fun to compare the offical studio-art publications with the more down to earth ones. Eager to see you do it!

Richard -- A sentence doesn't mean anything unless it has been suffered over, dammit. And at great length too. And in a way that the readers can't avoid missing.

Monte -- I don't suppose that there's a chance that I'm doing my best to tell you accurately about a world I know pretty well, is there?

Alec -- My lit-fict writer is meant to be a caricature, though not an absurd one. If you don't find it an enlightening one, that's too bad. But if you think it's an absurd caricature, then I've got dozens of people I've met at publishing lunches and literary parties to introduce you to. I have no idea what you're on about where Harvard is concerned. Did you go to Harvard or something? Anyway, if you don't like my Harvard analogy, let me try another: the fact that you can find some people at a snooty country club who were born working class doesn't mean that the snooty country club isn't a snooty country club. If your point is that there isn't an element of class snobbery involved in the TBR's view of fiction and reading, and if all you're going to cite in support of this is the fact that Arthur Miller (primarily a theatrical figure, not a literary one, btw) was born working-class, then I really don't know how to respond. The foundations, the publishing houses, the prize boards, and the NYTBR section itself are strikingly Ivy, near-Ivy, and Ivy-wannabe. As for your contention that "The lit-fict world has always encompassed high and low culture" ... Er, baloney. Take a look at the popular-fiction / pop-books blog Bookgasm and count the number of titles they cover that the TBR mentions. There's barely any overlap at all.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 18, 2007 3:21 PM

Michael -- it may be a world you know well, but intersects oddly little with mine: 35 years as professional writer, 30 in NYC (even a few years on the -- gasp -- Upper West Side), many friends in publishing, more than a handful of them at the NYT and NYTBR over the years.

I simply don't recognize them or their attitudes in what you write, so -- while perfectly willing to stipulate "doing your best" -- I have to dispute "accurately."

Posted by: Monte Davis on January 18, 2007 5:38 PM

Oh well, after already having generated my reaction to your mini-essay, I see that everybody has already chimed in. So excuse me if this is superfluous.

“On this side of the ring, a lit-fict woman author. Over on the other side of the ring we have a popular-fiction woman author.”

Susan Sontag vs. Grace Metalious?

"Now, which of these two authors should we feel is more worthy of our sympathy and support?"

The one who produces the best fiction. The ease of circumstances or lack thereof of an author and the amount of physical effort and personal sacrifice required to write is irrelevant in judging the final product. I’d rather not know the profile of the author, unless I’m reading a literary biography.

Granted that it is lots harder for your working class mom to sustain her literary career, but the same can be said for a comparison between any two practicioners of a profession where one is privileged and the other is not. Is it easier for a third-generation attorney from an upper class family of attorneys whose way has been greased well ahead of time to practice law than someone who went to a bar mill at night and operates a one-man, storefront practice? Of course. I want to know which one is the better attorney when I require their services, that’s all.

Life is unfair, and my sympathies go, if to anyone, to the working mom. But to the eventual reader, a book is a consumer commodity. Should our purchasing decisions be based on the quality of the product or the charcter of the laborer?

“Our hard-working entertainer-gal, on the other hand, could use a little recognition -- some warmth, and maybe even a few pats on the back. She is, after all, giving a whole lot more."

I presume that both writers in your hypothetical invest themselves equally in their work, unless you’re suggesting that your first writer is just a dilettante.

“And there's something else: It's important to remember that for all we know our reliable-gal creator of popular entertainments might be a terrific novelist.”

Then again, she might be merely what Jack Woodford called a purveyor of “cash and carry prose.”

“So, to my mind, saying ‘Let's cut the NYTBR section some slack because after all it's standing up for the little guy (ie., art)"

Who said that? I haven’t, nor do I recall any commentators here proposing that. I think it’s a straw man.

I think that you’re beginning to chase your tail here, Michael. There’s inequality in every department of life, and the privileged see to it that it stays that way, not just in the New York Literary Establishment (NYLE).

Expecting the NYTBR or the NYLE to change is like expecting competency and reasonableness to suddenly emanate from President Bush, his administration and their supporters.

Rather than rail at the NYTBR, your time, I suggest, would better be spent thinking of developing a practical alternative for readers and writers of popular fiction. If there is one.

As to Annie Liebovitz, she is a medicore (at best) celebrity photographer. Aesthetic standards are irrelevant to her profession. People look at her photos because of who their subjects are. I believe part of her success derives from the fact that she got started with Rolling Stone magazine in its early days and her work became associated with the mag and led to other posh assignments.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on January 18, 2007 5:38 PM

Monte -- Then we do have very different attitudes.

Peter L. -- The "but surely we have to spare some sympathy for lit fict" point of view I'm responding to is anything but a straw man. It's a pretty commonly-made argument, in my experience anyway. I'm not sure why you think I'm trying to get the TBR to change, btw -- my delusions of grandeur don't run in that particular direction. I'm just hoping to be of a little use by pointing out how narrow the TBR's focus is when it comes to on-the-page fiction.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 18, 2007 5:59 PM

I'm finding the debate between MB and his critics on the actual class background of authors to be pretty fascinating, but I'm not sure I have much to contribute. I would note that there might be a useful distinction to be made between actual good authors (who like all genuinely artistically talented people, are freaks who could come from any number of places), and the employees of low-paying yet art-world connected jobs at publishers, foundations, etc.

Anyway, I'm going to respond to a few of the very interesting points made by commenters (real good thread here, by the way).

First, Yahmdallah:

"One observation: on average, the very rich and connected are as decadent and pretty much in the same ways as the very poor trashy people - it's where the circle of societal behaviors meets, apparently."

I've observed this too, and I think there's a good reason for it -- only the very poor (who are too far down to give a damn) and the very rich (who are too powerful to have to give a damn) have immunity to middle-class anxieties about having to maintain one's status, propriety, etc. We middle class folks have to pay attention to that stuff in part because we either don't want to pay or can't afford the consequences of screwing up. Maybe that makes us better people, maybe it just makes us more timid, or (most likely) a combination of both.

From Patriarch:

"So yeah, maybe I'm a lesser person for having a preference for a well-turned phrase over a well-constructed plot (although the best books have both). But really, it's just that. A preference."

In keeping with my usual desire to make judgements, I would say it's not just a preference. I would say the usual problem with good plot / bad writing is that the *characterizations* are bad. So although the events of the plot might be interesting, the deeper and more profound level of plot -- the weird humanness and particularity of people that leads them to their decisions -- is missing. So the bad writing actually infects the plot and robs it of a layer of meaning. Now, this is different than just bad writing. A guy like Theodore Dreiser, who is notoriously clunky as a phrase-maker, still has a fascinating perspective on characterization. Some of his people are unforgettable. Likewise, what makes Wambaugh great is that he adds several layers of depth to the figure of the macho cop burn-out (actually, he was one of the key inventors of that character, which he updated from mid-century noir in compelling and believable ways. It has become a real cultural main-stay).

Posted by: MQ on January 18, 2007 8:59 PM

FWIW, and in case anyone's still looking at this thread (lots of fun, by the way, and thanks to all for interesting comments) ...

1) It doesn't matter if a given author comes from the Vanderbilts or is a pverty-stricken recent immigrant. The point of the posting is that the lit-fict and popular-fict worlds have very different gestalts, and that the lit-fict world is the one with much the greater institutional support (as well as a "classier" vibe). Popular-fiction authors are, after all, entrepreneurs who are trying to make a buck.

2) Is my caricature of a lit-fict writer all that exaggerated? Well, given the fact that I've met variations on her dozens of times, I'm a little surprised that this is such a speed-bump for some people.

But let me take the first example that falls to hand. I was just nosing through the Authors Guild Bulletin and reading an interview with the lit-fict novelist Jennifer Egan. Hmm, what's she like? Here's a few facts about her: Ivy League/Cambridge. Lives in Brooklyn, is in her mid-40s. Has a professional writing relationship with the NYTimes and some magazines. Husband's a theater director. Has received an NEA grant and a Guggenheim, as well as some kind of something from the NYPublic Library. Has written three novels and a collection of short stories.

Now Egan may well be a terrific writer and person, and there's no reason not to wish her well. And good for her for doing such a good job of making a place for herself in the NYC lit-writing world. That's a real accomplishment. Hats off.

Hers is not the typical profile of a popular-fiction writer, though. She isn't very prolific, and she's not making a living from her books (or probably even trying to). She's gotten support from charities, foundations, and public agencies. (Is the NYPublic Library providing support to struggling and/or worthy romance novelists? Is the NEA?) I doubt that her connections with the Times and other publications hurt her chances of being reviewed in (aka "getting yourself taken seriously by") prominent media outlets. When Jennifer Egan publishes a novel, it's automatically a contender for serious review (or profile) notice in numerous high-end publications. Oh, and she's on the board of the Authors Guild.

Now, Egan's probably a lovely and talented person, and my caricature of a lit-fict author was not of a lovely person. But are the concrete details that much different? Ivy ... Media connections ... Plugged-into the foundation/grant/writer's-organizations scenes ...

Pleasepleaseplease don't read any righteous indignation, let alone protest, into my voice here. Such is life, I'm just reciting facts, and I wish everyone well. My point is not that this is good or bad, it's that the lit-fict world is not a struggling wee charity case, full of impoverished, lonely, unappreciated people. It's a world that has considerable resources and institutional backing, and many of whose inhabitants know each other and do a good job of playing the lit-fict game.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 19, 2007 1:06 PM

I must admit, somewhat samefaced, that I find myself in greater agreement with your position after reading this blog post:

In a meditation about end of the world novels we have favorable mentions of Cormac McCarthy, David Markson and Murakami.

As I read this, I wondered if this guy was even aware of all the popular science ifction novels in this sub-genre. So then he mentions Nevil Shute's "On the Beach," only to disparage it.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on January 19, 2007 5:13 PM

I still believe the real issue is whether the Times Book Review has abandoned a deep-dyed American literary tradition that was democratic and universal. Jack London and Mark Twain did not write for elites but for Everyman. John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, James Baldwin did not write for elites, but for Everyman. (Willa Cather, by way of contrast, did say she was writing for an educated elite.) To the extent that the Times Book Review has isolated itself from the democratic heart and soul of American literature, it has abandoned an American literary tradition. It's not a matter of quality but a matter of alienation from this country's literary heart and soul.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on January 20, 2007 1:56 PM


You are one smooth dude!

"...and I wish everyone well..." as he splits, cleans, skewers and roasts to a crunchy-crunch fare thee well - the lit-crit archetype. (I'm still laughing at "She indulges in the fantasy that her sexuality is complicated.") [wipes a tear of laughter]

OK, I'm calm now. The NYTBR will go on forever ignoring popular lit because it presupposes that there is such a thing as the literary mind or art as literature or - you know what I mean.

Popular lit (or genre lit) for all its craftsmanship and excellence does not rise to art because it is bound to artifice. Its premises must always be fulfilled at the sacrifice of everything, or it is not genre lit i.e., it must refuse to surprise or smash beyond the boundaries of its premises. The writing and characters, for all their vibrancy, must, by the end of the book, surrender to event; genre or popular lit presupposes that event is all.

The reason why we go to literary lit is we want a taste of life shaped and delivered between covers. And what is the underlying tone of life? Surprise. We look to literary novelists to surprise us with vibrant living life in words. Quality lit attempts to convince us from the first page that its story and characters are torn from life itself.

Unfortunately, the NYTBR crowd defines life in a terribly narrow way: life is what scores against an imperial racist America and its oppressive white men. Its selection of quality lit necessarily reflects variations on this rut.

You are not alone, Michael, in your disgust with the narrowness of the lit-crit crowd. Joseph Epstein has written against as has James Wood and Tom Wolfe.

Please keep on with this series. If I were writing the next installment I'd criticize the heavy political content of the reviewers in all sections; every review carries its nutkick to Bush - even the cookbook reviews.

cheers - DA

Posted by: Doug Anderson on January 27, 2007 10:42 PM

The NYTBR vs Popular fiction #2

The NYTBR will never publish reviews of popular fiction because all genre fiction is committed to a large implausibility if not downright lie as its centerpiece. In Crime, Dectective, Police fiction it is that crooks are capable of intelligent resistance to the law. Anyone who has spent time in the criminal justice system knows that the criminal mind is a cloaca maxima of stupidity. In Gothic, horror, fantasy that the world of spirits interacts with us more than it does in reality; In Romance that the Hunk will eventually choose Plain Jane (rather than Pretty Jack).

You may shoot back that the NYTBR (and literary lit) is both laughable and implausible if it thinks that pushing so many Trust Fund Allison's on us will deliver enchantment and truth about life. Nevertheless that is the goal and the nature of that goal will forever exclude popular lit from being taken seriously in the NYTBR.

I'm not saying I agree with all this but I have a feeling that is the way it is.

Posted by: Doug Anderson on January 29, 2007 2:33 PM

Wow, no one is looking at this anymore, but Doug's posts are excellent.

And it's true, MB is one smooth dude.

Posted by: MQ on January 30, 2007 9:12 PM

Thanks MQ. I' guess we'll have to pick up when MB gets around to Part V; cheers -

Posted by: Doug Anderson on January 31, 2007 5:31 PM

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