Announcing our Top 20 Books of 2022

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

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors

by Laura Miller

The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors by Laura Miller X
The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors by Laura Miller
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Paperback:
    Aug 2000, 512 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

(This introduction is followed by an excerpt from the book with information on Edward Abbey, Chinua Achebe and Dorothy Allison)


Introduction by Laura Miller

It's one thing to say the literary landscape has been radically transformed in the past four decades, and something else again to revisit the territory of 1963 by leafing through Esquire magazine's special literary issue published in July of that year. The society it depicts seems startlingly remote. There's a charming naivete to the magazine's confidence in its ability to suss out the scene, from the seven full pages it gives Norman Mailer to evaluate nine books from his chief competitors (yes, they're all men) to the photo essays about the swingin' lives of a beatnik poet and a young Hollywood screenwriter, to the cover story about Allen Ginsberg's jaunt to India, a piece which manages to deftly skirt the small matter of the poet's homosexuality. But most endearing of all is a "chart of power" assembled by L. Rust Hills and stoutly entitled "The Structure of the American Literary Establishment," complete with biomorphic shapes indicating "The Red-Hot Center," "Squaresville" (The New York Times, naturally), and "The Cool World." Twenty-four years later, Hills rather sheepishly reprised his guide to "the literary universe" for Esquire, noting that, in the years between 1963 and 1987, "everything began to come apart and change more or less entirely."

That sense of protean fragmentation prevails today. The world of established literary giants, each one solemnly tapping out his version of the Great American Novel on a manual typewriter, has since dissolved into a fluid, unpredictable marketplace where the next critically-acclaimed, hit first novel might be written by a fifty-seven-year-old horse-breeder from North Carolina or by a thirty-six-year-old former aerobics instructor from India. The teapot of the literary world has weathered several tempests--controversies over trends, styles, and personalities--in the past forty years, but the sense of a monolithic shared culture seems to be gone for good.

Before I go into how and why that happened, it's important to note that if people in the book business often have shapely wrists, it's because they've elevated hand-wringing to the level of an Olympic sport. Decrying the precipitous decay of literary culture has been a popular activity for as long as writers have lamented their fates, in other words, for as long as there have been writers. In his 1891 novel, New Grub Street, George Gissing complained that "more likely than not," a really good book "will be swamped in the flood of literature that pours forth week after week and won't have attention fixed long enough upon it to establish its repute . . . The simple, sober truth has no chance whatever of being listened to, and it's only by volume of shouting that the ear of the public is held." Protesting the decline of bookselling is a venerable tradition as well, as an 1887 letter to Publishers Weekly, written by the publisher Henry Holt, attests. Long before the advent of television--in fact, even before radio or movies--Holt grieved the passing of the days when "many a substantial citizen" would "drop into the book-store of an evening . . . Now most of those book-stores no longer exist, at least as book-stores. They are toy-shops and ice-cream salons with files of Seaside Libraries in one corner." Those insidious "files of Seaside Libraries" were contributing to "a real diminution . . . in the reading habit" long before the Internet threatened to destroy civilization as we know it.

Nevertheless, things have decidedly changed. The literary establishment Esquire mapped in 1963 stood on the verge of the counterculture-led upheavals of the late '60s, the anti-novel metafictional experiments of the '70s, the identity politics-inspired attacks on the canonization of "dead white men" in the '80s, and a whole cavalcade of much-reviled crazes and trends, not to mention the ascension of such formerly lowbrow media as TV and popular music to the role of defining the spirit of the times. The writers surveyed in this book published their fiction against this tumultuous backdrop.

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

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join and Save 20%!

Become a member and
discover exceptional books.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: I'm the Girl
    I'm the Girl
    by Courtney Summers
    YA author Courtney Summers doesn't believe in shielding her teenage readers from the world's darkest...
  • Book Jacket: They're Going to Love You
    They're Going to Love You
    by Meg Howrey
    Teenage Carlisle lives with her mother in Ohio, but their relationship has never felt particularly ...
  • Book Jacket: The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    by Isaac Blum
    That irreplaceable feeling of everyone knowing your name. The yearning to be anonymous. Parents ...
  • Book Jacket: Now Is Not the Time to Panic
    Now Is Not the Time to Panic
    by Kevin Wilson
    The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with ...

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Natural History
    by Andrea Barrett

    A masterful new collection of interconnected stories, from the renowned National Book Award–winning author.

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

W N, W Not

and be entered to win..

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.
Who Said...

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.