One-Minute Book Reviews

May 15, 2008

And Today’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole Goes to …

I came across the following praise for Junot Díaz’s first book, Drown, while doing research on his The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It appeared in a Newsweek article that named Díaz one of the “New Faces of 1996” The article said that before receiving a six-figure, two-book advance, he was “just another 27-year-old fiction writer with an MFA”:

“Now he’s the latest overnight literary sensation. But luck had nothing to do with Diaz’s success. He earned it with his talent. … Talent this big will always make noise.”

Let’s leave aside that “overnight literary sensation” isn’t just hyperbole but a cliché. If big talent will “always make noise,” why couldn’t Herman Melville get an advance for Moby-Dick? (His publisher claimed he hadn’t earned back the money he received for his last book.) Why have so many other great writers died broke and neglected by readers?

To say that luck has nothing to do with literary success is an example of the American denial of luck, a romantic myth. Díaz has talent, a lot of it. But he was also lucky. He came along when doors were opening to groups – including women, blacks and Dominican-Americans like Díaz – whose voices traditionally had been suppressed. This change is the most important – and welcome – to occur in publishing in my lifetime.

But to say that even today talent “will always make noise” is to imply that publishing is an unfailing meritocracy and injustices no longer exist. This is untrue. The authors who are certain to “make noise” today aren’t those with the most talent – they’re the ones with the best chance of sharing a sofa with Oprah.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. Whoa. You made me recheck something I had just written myself and handed in, one of those puffy sentences that almost means something but doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head. Let’s see what the editor does with it…yikes. (Yesterday it seemed ok, but now in the finally sunny light of day and having had some sleep, it..might…just…be…an…annoyingbitofhyperbole.

    Your entries are not only about authors’ works but also serve as a cautionary tale to those of us who write and should maybe take yet another look at what we’ve put on paper before sending it in.


    Comment by oh — May 16, 2008 @ 3:12 pm | Reply

  2. You’re very welcome. Some of these hyperbolic lines make me question some of my choices, too. (I was the book critic of a daily newspaper for 11 years, and I wonder if I got through more than a decade without using at least a few of these …) Thanks so much for getting what I’m trying to do with these.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — May 16, 2008 @ 9:54 pm | Reply

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