The sixteen essays collected by Janet Malcolm in Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) will be familiar to readers of the New Yorker, NYRB and NYTRB; to have them in a single volume affords the great pleasure of reading or binge-reading promiscuously, and over and over again. Each of her thoughtful discourses on the life and work of Virginia Woolf, Diane Arbus, Julia Cameron, Edith Wharton, J.D. Salinger is worth the price of the book. She also considers in depth the vagaries of nude photography, and the women who posed for Edward Weston. In a piece called “Capitalist Pastorale” she introduces the work of a spectacularly bad novelist who achieved bestsellerdom and great wealth in the 1920s. Gene Stratton-Porter never revised and never cut: the novels “just came pouring out of her,” Malcolm writes. (One is reminded of Ian Fleming, the inventor of James Bond, who advised writers never to revise: “If you once look back, you are lost. By following my formula, you can write 2,000 words a day and not be disgusted with them until the book is finished.”) Janet Malcolm attributes Stratton-Porter’s hold on readers to the “boiling sea of emotion” in which her fictions are suspended (she often writes “she panted” instead of “she breathed”; and endless lists of consumer goods and brand names pour forth with an almost sexual energy; cf. James Bond). One could wish that Janet Malcolm would take a look at the works of James Michener for another example of the worst possible writing with the biggest possible audiences. Surely the most terrible novel ever published in Canada is Michener’s Journey: A Quest for Canadian Gold, a work swimming if not boiling in seas of fact-like information. An astonishing paragraph on page 48 narrates the mileages between cities and the hours of travel required to get from Montreal to Edmonton on the CPR, a trip that “traversed an awesome distance.” The dining car offers “a gala meal intended to display the riches of Canada: seafood from the east coast, rich beef from the prairies, fruits and vegetables from Ontario and desserts from French patisseries in Montreal, all served by two professionally gracious white head waiters assisted by blacks trained to show professional smiles.” “This is a grand introduction to Canada,” says one of the central characters. “I hope it’s an omen.” The royalties from this endlessly selling work fund a major Canadian literary prize.