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Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Comparative lit

Posted By on Wed, Nov 22, 2000 at 12:00 AM

It is the ultimate goal of the serious reader to stumble upon a novel or story of unique genius. Once the lucky reader has obsessively plowed through the story, he or she will proceed to read every other work by the same author, in an attempt to recapture the moment of perfect bookworm bliss.

The Salon.com Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Authors should provide a reliable method of sniffing out the most promising new candidates for this rare and remarkable occurrence. Salon.com has gathered a pack of 90 editors, authors and journalists to contribute to a well-researched list of old and soon-to-be-discovered favorites.

From the popular (Stephen King) to the unfamiliar (Sherman Alexie), the revered (Raymond Carver) to the jeered (Bret Easton Ellis), short-story writers, epic novelists, authors of science and “serious” fiction alike, it’s a captivating catalog of more than 225 authors in assorted sizes and flavors, all vying for a spot on your next library list.

Each entry contains a bibliography with a few recommended titles of note. The review and analysis which follows is sharp and spirited, and the “See Also” paragraph at the end of the section allows readers to look up their favorite authors to find others who write on similar themes or with comparable style.

Interspersed among the alphabetized directory are several lists and critical essays offering additional instruction for the disciple of modern fiction. Fay Weldon’s list (“Who’s Screwing Who”) includes Lolita and The Handmaid’s Tale; Calvin Trillin recommends five books that made him laugh; Ishmael Reed selects truthful African-American novelists.

Flipping through this literary handbook is as enjoyable as browsing the Salon.com Web site — both contain savory chunks of amusing text, linked and cross-referenced to other entertaining sections. The problem is: Will rabid readers be able to break away long enough to pick up one of the novels it suggests?

Karen Fisher is MT's information coordinator. E-mail her at kjfisher@metrotimes.com.

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