En Garde!

There are many good writers active these days, certainly more than enough to keep you busy—if you can identify them. That's not so easy to do, because the ones who are promoted (make that "expensively touted") are usually (a euphemism for "almost always") not the ones to spend time with. As a rule of thumb, I suggest that writers representing organized political constituencies or identity groups may be safely neglected without even cursory investigation, though the possibility of exception cannot be discounted entirely. You have to watch out, too, for writers who are excessively photogenic, for a glossy image is often the sign of an empty cranium or, worse, an empty book.

There's a confusion here between image and reality, between money and politics, that's often referred to as "the publishing industry," which exists in parallel to "the fashion industry," "the film industry," "the music business," "politics," "culture," and so on. That's a roundabout way of saying that popular success need be neither popular nor successful, in these days of turbo-capitalism. But that's not saying that, in simpler days, popular success was not meaningful. Dumas and Dickens and Balzac still compete powerfully for our attention today, and for the same reasons that they competed successfully over a century and a half ago for the allegiance of readers...

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