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May 17, 2005



Wait a second. So the idea is to make a "breakout" happen? Now we get it. It's writers who need that extra skoonch of attention. I can understand it. The writers who are sort of unknown because everybody's heard of them but hasn't read them, or lots of people have read them but not as many as have read Jonathan Franzen. The literary equivalent of Wilco or Aimee Mann. You want to pick Sam Lipsyte. You want to pick Jonathan Lethem just before "Motherless Brooklyn." You want the "Wonder Boys" era Chabon, when he was just an average run-of-the-mill aspiring writer who happened to get everything he wrote published in the New Yorker. Gotcha. I think that's good. That's why the Blogosphere gradually formed its gaseous ring around the web: to pick and choose authors with a really good shot at the main chance. That's real good. It's nothing about five dozen glossy magazines, not to mention about a zillion local newspapers, isn't already doing, but all that duplication of effort can't hurt, right?


Zeke, "the idea" was that I was given five books to rank comparatively as to how good I thought they were--which in my case correlates to how much I'd be willing to recommend them to somebody else--and as it happens, my individual tastes happened this time around to coincide with the taste of my colleagues. (There are two other books on the shortlist I'd recommend nearly as strongly, one that I'd recommend a lot less readily, and one that I wouldn't recommend to anybody, but that's just me.) That's really all there is to the project. Yes, in this particular case, the book I'm telling you to read is a book somebody else might have told you to read. You can imagine whatever motive behind that you like; the question is: Did you read it then or will you read it now?

Ben Zander, the orchestral conductor, talks about how the critical voice really isn't all that interesting: all it does it say things like "no" or "that's not good enough." I'm here because I like opening up possibilities for all kinds of writers; I've been harshly critical of some writers at various points, but ultimately I find it a lot more stimulating to talk about the ones I like. This time it's Kate Atkinson. Next time it'll be somebody else. And in between, I've got a whole website full of books and writers that interest me, and you can find twenty others just like it off to the left, and plenty more besides. But start with Case Histories, if those reviews last winter didn't convince you already.


I don't know, it just seems in the universe of publishing that the author who has gotten the PR force of her imprint behind her enough to get 15 major reviews including the New York Times isn't the right choice for "Read This." I was hoping for the discovery here. I was hoping to hear about the writer who didn't get reviewed in the New York Times. I hoping that this collective would find the writer operating beneath the radar and get them on the radar.


I think we all understand that there are many people that don't agree or are disappointed that the choice wasn't all that they wanted or had hoped for. But enough. Do we all have to spend the next few days, weeks, months, complaining or will we give Case Histories a chance, possibly read a great book and have something interesting to talk about?
The simple fact that a book, any book is read and talked about is great. If you don't like the choice, read something else and post a suggestion. But in my opinion if the constant moaning about the choice doesn't stop, a great blog with an even better goal will be lost. I, for one, know I don't want to come back and continue reading the same negative comments.

Katharine Weber

How odd that so many people seem to begrudge the perceived critical success the book and its author have had, because it is somehow too much success, too mainstream, even many people also say they haven't read this book and would never have read this book. Why is that? Which is it? A too-successful book, or an unread book? Perhaps, just perhaps, this strange split points out how meaningless lots of good reviews can actually be for selling an offbeat book like this, or for getting thoughtful, novel-reading people to read THIS novel?

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