Saturday, April 05, 2008

Things I've Learned from Women Who've Dumped Me, edited by Ben Karlin

The trickiest part of any anthology is the one readers most often forget about: picking the contributors in the first place. Of course, it's rare that everyone you invite has the time and inspiration -- ask me about the writers who kept saying "I'd love to, but..." to the original anthologies at my old job someday -- but that initial list molds the project, and determines much of its direction.

I'm going to bet, using my secret Publishing Knowledge, that Things I've Learned From Women Who Dumped Me was a completely closed project -- that everyone in it was invited by editor Ben Karlin, or someone he dealt with at Grand Central Publishing, or suchlike. (Nonfiction anthos are massively less likely to have an "open reading" period than grubby genre fiction to begin with, for one thing.)

And that initial list settled it. This kind of book could have gone in many different ways -- twenty years ago, it probably would have been made up entirely of young novelists, and thirty years ago it probably would have been heavily illustrated by B. Kliban. But the 2008 Things I've Learned From Women Who Dumped Me -- the one that actually exists in our own time and space -- is made up almost entirely of essays from TV writers and ex-Onion hands.

Thus, the emphasis is on quick, facile "lessons," and Things I've Learned is a quick read, but not one that will last long in memory. It's humorous rather than really funny, and only a few of the pieces are more than "eh."

Now, I've read at least two reviews of this book that said exactly that -- in fancier words, sure, and all gussied up in some for-pay publication, but essentially the same thing -- and I still picked the damn thing up myself. It's got a great title, a neat cover, and it looks like it will be a lot of fun. So you may well find yourself reading it as well, like I did. And, if so, you'll then have your chance to write a review like this.

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