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This review is taken from PN Review 16, Volume 7 Number 2, November - December 1980.

POPULARIZERS Peter Jones, An Introduction to 50 American Poets (Pan) £1.50
Michael Schmidt, An Introduction to 50 Modern British Poets (Pan) £1.75

The authors of books like these have a heavy responsibility. Very seldom reviewed at all, never at length, and almost never in journals with knowledgeable readers, these plastic-backed guides ('50 American Novels' and '50 European Novels' are others in the series), because they are cheap and efficiently distributed, certainly reach many more readers, and have much more actual influence on public taste, than books which rate many respectful column inches in the TLS. It is cheap books like these, along with bulkier encyclopaedic 'surveys', which in the short run, even in the quite long run, make or break reputations; it is these -or so we may suppose, for there seem to be no hard facts to go on-that decide whether sales of a living writer's work are good enough for his publisher to keep him in print or to accept what he next submits. Accordingly when the author of a Guide or Survey is spiteful or irresponsible or both, this can really hurt. And the spite or the carelessness can go undetected, indeed almost certainly will. Nothing is needed, for instance, beyond parroting what was once an understandably adverse response to a writer's first work; though that initial response has been subsequently revised in the light of the writer's later publications, or by more careful reading over the years, and although that revised estimate has long been current in journals like TLS and PNR, the discredited estimate can still be safely sold to the readers of Guides and Surveys, ...


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