For Your Added Reading Pleasure . . . Essays on Recent Writers, Writing

Article excerpt

Title: In Fact: Essays on Writers and Writing

Author: Thomas Mallon

Data: Pantheon Books, 352 pages, $26.95

Review by Ann Hyman

It's a fact that people who like to read books often want to read about books.

Thus, Thomas Mallon's collection of essays about books, writers and writing is as engaging as good conversation.

Mallon has the credentials. He's a novelist, essayist and a fine critic -- winner of the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. His popular column, "Doubting Thomas," ran for six years in GQ and he contributes regularly to The New York Times Book Review and The New Yorker.

In Fact is a collection of the best of his work from the past 20 years.

The overall effect is conversational as he moves from the work of contemporary writers -- Tom Wolfe, Don DeLillo, Joan Didion -- to voices from the recent past -- John O'Hara, Truman Capote, Mary McCarthy.

Most of us are in such a hurry to get to and get through what we want to read that we often don't take the time for the details. One of the pleasures of this collection is the occasion it provides to go back and take another look at works we've read.

When Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full was new, for instance, the trick was to get your hands on a copy and read in big gulps, a rush to judgment. As good as Bonfire? Accurate Atlanta background?

It's pleasant to revisit the questions with Mallon.

And, in praising Wolfe's eye for detail, Mallon shows us details we may have missed.:

" . . . a certain paleness results from the change of venue. Atlanta, for example, may have its white establishment Piedmont Driving Club, but there isn't the sort of old money, one of the hidden combustibles in Bonfire, that you find in New York. …