Excerpt from The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors by Laura Miller, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors

by Laura Miller

The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
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    Aug 2000, 512 pages

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The question of how contemporary fiction should deal with mass culture was explicitly taken up by an heir to the encyclopedic tradition, the young novelist David Foster Wallace, in "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," as essay published in the Review of Contemporary Fiction in 1993. Wallace describes a new generation of "Image-Fiction" writers so acclimated to the mass media that they "use the transient received myths of popular culture as a world in which to imagine fictions about Ôreal,' albeit pop-mediated characters." (Mark Leyner, one of these writers, produces fiction that incorporates influences ranging from ad copy to scientific treatises, in what Wallace describes as "witty, erudite, extremely high-quality prose television.") Wallace then questions the "irony and ridicule" deployed by these writers because, he claims, television is already ironic about itself, and thus the medium has deftly co-opted its would-be satirists. "Television . . . has become able to capture and neutralize any attempt to change or even protest the attitudes of passive unease and cynicism that television requires," Wallace maintains. He ends by calling for sincerity and for novelists who "treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction."

Most (if not quite all) of the authors covered in this book consider themselves to be aiming for something like that, whether they deal with life in the United States or in Nigeria, whether they write complicated, brainy epics or quiet domestic dramas, whether they take as their subjects urgent political situations or eternal metaphysical quandaries. It's conventional to bemoan the fact that the novelists of 2000 mean less to their society than the novelists of 1960 meant to theirs, but the literary landscape I explored in the process of editing this book also seems much richer and more varied than the one obtained forty years ago. Readers themselves--from Oprah Winfrey to the organizers of the private reading groups that have proliferated across the nation to the participants in Internet discussion groups like Salon.com's Table Talk community--are increasingly determining which are the "important" books from a staggering array of new titles published each year, based on criteria that often defy the literary establishment's. These are tough times for publishers and perhaps for authors as well, but for readers an abundance of voices and stories await at local (and virtual) bookstores. The red-hot center may be impossible to find, but we have the whole world instead. Reprinted from Salon.com edited by Laura Miller by permission of Viking Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 Laura Miller. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


Abbey, Edward 1927-1989 b. Home, Pennsylvania

FICTION: Jonathan Troy (1956), The Brave Cowboy (1956), Fire on the Mountain (1962), Black Sun (1971), The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975), Good News (1980), The Fool's Progress (1988), Hayduke Lives! (1990)

NONFICTION: Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness (1968), Appalachian Wilderness: The Great Smoky Mountains (1970), Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah (with Philip Hyde, 1971), Cactus Country (1973), The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West (1977), Back Roads of Arizona (1978), The Hidden Canyon: A River Journey (1977), Desert Images: An American Landscape (1979), Abbey's Road: Take the Other (1979), Down the River (1982), In Praise of Mountain Lions (with John Nichols, 1984), Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside (1984), The Best of Edward Abbey (1988), One Life at a Time, Please (1988), A Voice Crying in the Wilderness: Essays from a Secret Journal (1990), Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey, 1951-1989 (1994), The Serpents of Paradise: A Reader (1995)

Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Viking Penguin. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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