Malcolm Jones

Stories by Malcolm Jones

  • Renata's Rant

    Reading "Gone," Renata Adler's lament for the old New Yorker—before Tina Brown gave it "buzz"—you just keep thanking your lucky stars she's never met you. Because even the people she likes come off badly in this book. Defending William Shawn, the legendary editor of The New Yorker for 35 years, she takes issue with recent accounts which, she alleges, paint him as either an "unctuous, pompous, humorless creep" or an "unctuous, pious, humorless creep." Weirdly, by the time she is done "defending" him, he is all of the above. Of course, just because she's vicious doesn't mean she's wrong. Most of what she says about the magazine is conventional wisdom: it was a paragon of American journalism so long as Shawn was editor. Yes, you sometimes got those five-part series on wheat, but sometimes you got "In Cold Blood." Adler thinks this journalistic heaven started declining when S. I. Newhouse bought the magazine in 1985 and went completely to hell after Newhouse fired Shawn two years later...
  • Moving Across Mediums

    Standing beside Michael Crichton amid the armor collection of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, you get a vivid sense of his creative power. He has the ability to take the relics of a museum case, objects that have been boring children on rainy Sundays for generations, and turn them into "Timeline" (Knopf), his fascinating new novel about time travel back to 14th-century France. Crichton is a master of an odd hybrid: entertaining novels that educate. "Timeline" is a page turner and a very lucid look at life in the late Middle Ages. He teaches you how to think like a knight during a joust by putting you in the saddle. You're balancing a lance in one hand, a shield in the other, while you struggle not to fall off a galloping horse and struggle even harder not to throw up in your helmet.But this exhibit also inspires another question: does Crichton, at 57 the most financially successful novelist of the day, ever feel like a prisoner of his own success, trussed up like one of these...
  • Reflections On The Water

    Travel writing was once the work of genuine explorers. It was journals and sea logs, or reports from eccentric Englishmen in authentically exotic locales. Nowadays, with no more worlds to conquer, travel writing too often is the work of writers looking to fulfill a book contract. In "River-Horse" (506 pages. Houghton Mifflin. $26), William Least Heat-Moon attempts to cross America by boat. He starts up the Hudson, traverses the Erie Canal, then Lake Erie and so on, all the way to the Pacific, allowing for a few portages. But it's a contrived journey and a contrived book, filled with facts but marred by fussy writing. Heat-Moon is the sort of writer who won't say umbrella when he can say bumbershoot. It would be a very tolerant reader who wouldn't want to jump ship before Heat-Moon hits Ohio.Jonathan Raban, by contrast, sets out on a far more modest--and ultimately far more successful--voyage in "Passage to Juneau" (435 pages. Pantheon. $26.50). Sailing from Seattle to Alaska, he...
  • Is Pokemon Evil?

    You'd think that owning a piece of the Pokemon phenomenon would be like having a license to print money. But the mere fact that Warner Bros. was set to release "Pokemon: The First Movie" on Nov. 10 was not automatic cause for cheering around the studio. Pokemon is a kid thing, and kid things can go pfffft just like that. Add the fact that the buzz on this dubbed, animated Japanese import is about as bad as buzz can be. You can see why Warners execs were nervous.Then last Monday morning a Los Angeles disc jockey announced a phone-in contest to win tickets to the premiere of the movie. Suddenly the Warners switchboard was receiving 70,000 calls a minute. The message got through: Pokemon is still a monster.For how long nobody knows. But like many monsters, it is creating a measure of fear and panic in its wake. The playground set is as ferociously obsessed as they were when the craze first hit last year. Schools are banning it; parents worry about addictive behavior. And most Pokemon...
  • Cut! And That's A Wrap!

    Not so very long ago, Hollywood was a place where pretension was outlawed. The greater the artist, the louder that artist insisted he was no more than a craftsman. John Ford, who won a record four Oscars for directing, famously announced himself, "I'm John Ford, I make Westerns." Billy Wilder, whose Oscars numbered a measly two, put it only slightly differently: "I don't make cinema, I make movies." With the major players refusing to testify, it's no surprise so few great books have ever been written about Hollywood. What is a wonder is that somehow eager readers suddenly have been dealt a pair of aces back to back: two first-rate works on Ford and Wilder. It's enough to make you fall for Hollywood endings.Wilder, lucky for us, has grown more loquacious in his 90s--although he's still insisting that he just made movies. Director Cameron Crowe ("Jerry Maguire"), an ardent Wilder fan, found that as long as he avoided calling Wilder a genius, he could keep him talking. The result, ...
  • Continental Drifting

    There are several moments at the beginning of "The Wonders of the African World," Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s six-part PBS series starting Oct. 25, that make you squirm. You watch Gates's car get stuck in the Sudanese desert. Then you watch him help the driver get the car out of the sand. And you start to wonder if this isn't uncomfortably close to suffering through your cousin's slides from his vacation. But don't dare doze off. Gates has decked out this documentary series about African cultures both ancient and modern in the loosey-goosey togs of a personal travelogue. But he has a deeply serious purpose--as we see when he encounters the great-granddaughter of an African slave trader in Zanzibar. Offhandedly, he wonders aloud if her ancestors might have sold his ancestors. She agrees. The choice, she says, was to be a slave or a slave trader. And suddenly what seemed so casual is totally chilling. And when they shake hands and embrace--burying the past--this genuinely emotional moment...
  • When The Earth Moved

    How different was Galileo's time from our own? Dava Sobel spends a whole book counting the ways. As she demonstrated so delightfully with her first book, the surprise nonfiction best-seller "Longitude," Sobel loves the byways and oddities of history-- the discovery of longitude was pulled off by an 18th-century clockmaker. In "Galileo's Daughter," a briskly written history that reads like a novel, she plunges into a 17th-century world where gravity had not been discovered, thermometers had not been invented and women could be consigned to convent life simply because they weren't marriageable. Retelling the story of Galileo's famous battle with the Inquisition over geocentricism, she brings it to life by concentrating on the everyday--his professional feuds, his own sincere religious beliefs and--most important--his intense relationship with his eldest daughter, a cloistered nun. The result is no textbook-sterile debate between science and religion over whether the sun revolved...
  • Helen Hunt's Mystery Date

    Helen Hunt and Robert B. Parker play well together. Sitting on the sofa in her production company's office in West Hollywood, they make nice about each other nonstop. "I fell in love with his books," says the Academy Award-winning actress. "Helen is a good kid," responds the creator of the Spenser detective novels. "And I can call her that because I have kids older than she is." The 36-year-old Hunt and the 67-year-old Parker do look like a mismatched set. But they both know what they want, and right now they both want "Family Honor," Parker's new novel about female gumshoe Sunny Randall, to be a smash. Turning to Hunt, Parker says, "Did I tell you Sunny hits the Times best-seller list at No. 14 this Sunday?" "Holy s--t," she exclaims. "That's incredible," sounding like a kid who just found out she gets to have chocolate cake for breakfast.You have to understand: Helen Hunt is Sunny Randall. Or she will be. So far Sunny is merely the protagonist of Parker's 34th book. But he created...
  • An Immigrant's Tale

    The big question for Frank McCourt's fans has always been, how do you follow a triumph like "Angela's Ashes"? That memoir, McCourt's first book, won him a Pulitzer Prize and millions of readers. Does anyone think that " 'Tis," the newly published sequel, could possibly be as good? The answer is a clear-cut yes and no. " 'Tis" is no "Angela" when it comes to drama and tragedy--there are no dying babies in this book. But "Angela's Ashes," for all its virtues, was a relatively straightforward tale of survival in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. " 'Tis" is more complicated, and much more ambitious. It takes up where the first book left off, with McCourt's arriving in America in 1949, and it, too, is a memoir. But there the comparisons stop. McCourt found his unique voice in his first effort. The second time round, he successfully tackles the much more difficult job of finding himself.Superficially, " 'Tis" is the classic immigrant's tale. As a dockworker, a soldier, a student on the GI...
  • Magician For Millions

    Judging by the millions of readers he's bewitched so far, Harry Potter is indeed a very powerful wizard. The entire Newcombe family, for example, lies under Harry's spell. Lizzie and Laura, 8-year-old twins, listen to their parents read from J. K. Rowling's books about the bespectacled sorcerer's apprentice every night. After they've gone to bed, their brother, Jimmy, 10, grabs the book and reads himself to sleep. Catie, their mother, thinks Harry and his fictional friends make excellent role models. And Jim Newcombe, an advertising executive, is such a fan that he couldn't wait for the third installment, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," to be published in this country early next month. So, like a lot of other Potterites, he ordered the book on the Internet from England, where it appeared last month. And for his 44th birthday, he took the whole family to their local library in Lake Forest, Ill., for a book-group meeting that focused on Harry's exploits at Hogwarts School...
  • Disaster Chronicles

    It was a dark and stormy night. Except when it was a dark and stormy day. In the world of nonfiction adventure literature, there's always bad weather. From the slopes of Everest to the troughs of 60-foot waves, journalists and adventurers have been busily grinding out accounts of frostbite and shipwreck, and readers can't get enough. Since the mid-'90s publication of "The Perfect Storm," Sebastian Junger's tale of a fishing boat lost at sea, and Jon Krakauer's instant classic about climbing Mount Everest, "Into Thin Air," the best-seller lists have been flooded with tales of adventures gone bad. The big action this summer is in sea disasters, ranging from Gordon Chaplin's "Dark Wind," in which he has to watch while a typhoon drowns his lover, to no fewer than four books about the 1998 Sydney-to-Hobart yacht-race disaster where six sailors died. Water also figures in Richard Bang's forthcoming "The Lost River," about a lethal rafting trip in Africa, and in September Modern Library...
  • Our Man In Havana

    Even in Havana, where grinding poverty and surreal beauty go hand in hand down every street, where mint condition '50s sedans oddly complement the dilapidated buildings with their bubble-gum colors and laundry flying from every window--even here, the Palacio Viena stops you in your tracks. A dark, almost sinister building in the oldest part of town, the Palacio was once a grand hotel. Now its giant front door gapes like the maw of a cave. Terra-cotta vines choke the rococo facade. "This was one of the first things I saw when I started coming down here in the early '90s," says novelist Martin Cruz Smith, standing in the dusty street, staring up at the building. "It struck me as enormously evocative of some past glory," said the 56-year-old writer. "Cuba is an island floating just out of reach, like a dream you had and you remember bits of that dream and you want to get back to it." ...
  • The 'Buena Vista' Gang Stays Social

    Anyone lucky enough to attend the 1998 Carnegie Hall concert by the Buena Vista Social Club knows why musicians in Cuba are treated like royalty. The 30 musicians onstage that night were aristocracy in action. German director Wim Wenders's documentary "Buena Vista Social Club," opening June 4, captures some of that magic. The best thing about this uneven movie is that it gives the music a context: seeing the players at home in Cuba, you understand this musically drenched culture a lot better. But the real gold for any fan of the 1997 million-selling album "Buena Vista Social Club" is the splendid solo albums released recently by members of the club, including Eliades Ochoa ("Sublime Illusion") and Barbarito Torres ("Havana Cafe"). Best is Ibrahim Ferrer's self-titled solo album, capped by a duet with Omara Portuondo on "Silencio." This is haunting stuff.
  • Visible Once Again

    After novelist Ralph Ellison's death in 1994, his widow led John F. Callahan, Ellison's literary executor, into the writer's study. She showed him the hardbound notebooks, the manila folders, the computer disks, the hundreds of notes scrawled on the backs of old bills and magazine subscription forms. She was offering him a glimpse of a novel that Ellison fans have been awaiting since the Truman administration--the manuscript Ellison had been working on for 42 years, ever since he had published his groundbreaking first novel, "Invisible Man." Callahan remembers that there was enough material there for three or four books. But his calculations were cut short when Fanny Ellison asked the $64,000 question: "Does it have a beginning, a middle and an end?" In other words, is it a novel or not?The short answer is a qualified yes. Next month Random House will publish what it is calling Ralph Ellison's second novel, "Juneteenth," and because it has Ellison's name on it, it is a bona fide...
  • Touched By The Angels

    To understand Jan Karon, you have to know about livermush. Livermush is a western North Carolina ... um ... delicacy, a sort of down-home pate forged out of pork liver, bread crumbs, sage and a few other odds and ends, and fried on the griddle. Karon loves the stuff and mentions it every chance she gets in her five novels about the fictional town of Mitford. About the size of Blowing Rock, N.C. (population: 1,800), where the 62-year-old author lives, Mitford is kind of like Andy Griffith's Mayberry, but from Aunt Bea's point of view. Quaint? A little. An idealized picture of home, untroubled by crime, traffic or any of the other plagues of big-city life? Certainly. And, Karon insists, as real and palatable as livermush. "This is my culture," she brags. "I'm proud of it."And why not? Her portrait of a world where people still go to church and bake cakes for their neighbors has made her a fortune. Karon is one of a number of writers, including Iyanla Vanzant and Anne Lamott, who have...
  • A Highly Unorthodox Debut

    Nathan Englander grew up in what he calls "a little Jewish biosphere." The tightknit Orthodox community on New York's Long Island was also "right wing, xenophobic and anti-intellectual," according to the 29-year-old author. There he received "an old-style shtetl-mentality education" with an unvarying message: "You are an Orthodox Jew, and if you are miserable then you should be a miserable Orthodox Jew." Bit by bit, between adolescence and adulthood, Englander, once devout, lost his religion. At the same time he discovered writing. It was, he says, his way out of his claustrophobic world.It also became his obsession. By the time he finished graduate school, Englander was writing all day, six days a week. Since last summer, he's been the talk of publishing for the reported $350,000 advance he received for his astonishing debut, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (205 pages. Knopf. $22). That's an unheard-of sum for a collection of stories by any writer, let alone an unknown. "It's so...
  • Energy And Elegance, Musical Milestones

    Starting early and finishing late, violinist Yehudi Menuhin had one of the most distinguished careers--certainly the longest--of any musician in this century. Born in New York in 1916, he began as a prodigy, taking up the violin when he was 4 and making his concert debut in 1924 in San Francisco at the age of 7. Ecstatic reviews sealed his fate and foretold his future. He would tour, performing (often with his two piano-playing sisters) and conducting, for the rest of his life. When he died in Berlin last week at 82, he was, fittingly, in the middle of yet another concert tour.His performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto at Carnegie Hall in 1927 made him an international celebrity, proving in the bargain that not even the crustiest old pros were immune to his musical charm. When New York Philharmonic conductor Fritz Busch first heard that his featured soloist was 11 years old, he muttered, "One doesn't hire Jackie Coogan [the child movie star] to play Hamlet." But when Busch...
  • The Poet Lariat

    Larry McMurtry casts a cold eye on the runty mesquite and the oil rigs that pock the plains around his hometown of Archer City, Texas (population: 1,918). But then his big Lincoln crests a ridge, the scrub gives way to beautiful rolling country, and McMurtry smiles. "This is the prairie the way the buffalo would have seen it," he says. "This is the way it looked when my father was born in 1900." Jeff McMurtry was one of the last men to make a living purely out of ranching. The younger McMurtry worked for his father as a cowhand until he was 22, but "I never aspired to be a rancher," he says. "I never really liked it. I knew, and my father knew, that it wasn't going to last another generation. He just barely survived doing the work he wanted."Herding words instead of cattle, the 62-year-old McMurtry has become Archer City's most famous son. The writer's 22 novels have made him famous, garnering critical acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize for the phenomenally best-selling "Lonesome Dove." ...
  • New Fire From The 'Ashes', 'Angela's' Entourage

    Frank McCourt casts a quizzical eye over the slums of his youth. Or rather, a more-than-reasonable facsimile thereof. The "slum" is a movie set for the film version of "Angela's Ashes," McCourt's best-selling memoir of his "miserable Irish Catholic childhood" in Limerick in the '30s and '40s. Ironically, Ireland is so prosperous these days that when the filmmakers searched for a slum like the one McCourt grew up in, they couldn't find one standing in Limerick--or anywhere else in Ireland. So they wound up building their own on a vacant Dublin lot. Now, on a wet December morning, workmen are painting the gray walls even grayer and roughing up the concrete. What are they doing, McCourt asks a foreman. They're "distressing" the buildings, he's told, in an effort to age them. "They're distressing them," he chuckles. "Christ almighty, this is a book about a slum, and look at what's going on. There's an industry built around it."But while McCourt is plainly disquieted, he is not surprised...
  • New Fire From The 'Ashes'

    FRANK MCCOURT CASTS A quizzical eye over the slums of his youth. Or rather, a more-than-reasonable facsimile thereof. The ""slum'' is a movie set for the film version of ""Angela's Ashes,'' McCourt's best-selling memoir of his ""miserable Irish Catholic childhood'' in Limerick in the '30s and '40s. Ironically, Ireland is so prosperous these days that when the filmmakers searched for a slum like the one McCourt grew up in, they couldn't find one standing in Limerick--or anywhere else in Ireland. So they wound up building their own on a vacant Dublin lot. Now, on a wet December morning, workmen are painting the gray walls even grayer and roughing up the concrete. What are they doing, McCourt asks a foreman. They're ""distressing'' the buildings, he's told, in an effort to age them. ""They're distressing them,'' he chuckles. ""Christ almighty, this is a book about a slum, and look at what's going on. There's an industry built around it.'' ...
  • The Poet Lariat

    LARRY MCMURTRY CASTS A COLD eye on the runty mesquite and the oil rigs that pock the plains around his hometown of Archer City, Texas (population: 1,918). But then his big Lincoln crests a ridge, the scrub gives way to beautiful rolling country, and McMurtry smiles. ""This is the prairie the way the buffalo would have seen it,'' he says. ""This is the way it looked when my father was born in 1900.'' Jeff McMurtry was one of the last men to make a living purely out of ranching. The younger McMurtry worked for his father as a cowhand until he was 22, but ""I never aspired to be a rancher,'' he says. ""I never really liked it. I knew, and my father knew, that it wasn't going to last another generation. He just barely survived doing the work he wanted.''Herding words instead of cattle, the 62-year-old McMurtry has become Archer City's most famous son. The writer's 22 novels have made him famous, garnering critical acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize for the phenomenally best-selling ""Lonesome...
  • A Feast Of Literary Delights

    ON THE EVENING OF NOV. 28, 1966, A rainy Monday, an extraordinary event took place at the Plaza Hotel in New York City: a writer threw a party, a masked ball, in honor of Katharine Graham, owner of The Washington Post and this magazine. More than 500 of the nation's most powerful and famous citizens, from tycoons to movie stars to literary lions, were invited. And most of them showed up, making it the first time in history, and probably forever, that the rich and famous did the bidding of a writer. Of course, the writer was Truman Capote. He was then the best-known author in the country, having published ""In Cold Blood'' earlier in the year. He was also the favorite court jester of high society both here and in Europe. Capote knew everybody, from the Kennedys to members of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and he invited them all to his Black and White Ball.Capote's guest list supplies a sharp snapshot of the way things were--and how much the times have changed. Not one person...
  • Spruced Up Evergreens

    FLANNERY O'CONNOR ONCE said that when she went to college, nobody mentioned any good Southern writers. ""As far as I knew, the heroes of Hawthorne and Melville and James and Crane and Hemingway were balanced on the Southern side by Brer Rabbit--an animal who can always hold up his end of the stick, in equal company, but here too much was being expected of him.'' Oh, yeah? O'Connor wasn't wrong about much, but she may have sold old Brer Rabbit short. Of course, she did not have the benefit of reading Virginia Hamilton's wonderful retelling of his exploits in A Ring of Tricksters (Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $19.95), her new collection of the tales slaves brought to the West Indies and the Americas. Add Barry Moser's lively illustrations, and the choice between Hawthorne and Brer Rabbit comes down to a coin toss. There is no crying need for yet another retelling of ""Brer Rabbit'' or any of these tales. But when the telling is as expert as Hamilton's, who can resist? ...
  • It's Not Just Bad, It's Sorta Great

    IT IS SHAMEFULLY EASY TO criticize author Richard Preston's skills as a novelist. The plot of The Cobra Event (404 pages. Random House. $25.95) is less a story than a collection of clichEs strung together: a plucky female doctor leads everyone from the FBI to the fire department on a chase to corner a mad scientist who is threatening New York City with a bomb. Preston's idea of characterization is to describe what everyone is wearing: the two most interesting characters are the one with the pocket pal for pens and the one wearing L.L. Bean loafers. And his prose, pedestrian at best, can be memorably awful: ""The Manhattan morgue emitted an endless Gregorian chant of smell.'' So why did I stay up until 2 a.m. finishing this book, scared out of my wits all the way?Probably because Preston has inadvertently created a new hybrid of fact and fiction. Author of the nonfiction best seller ""The Hot Zone,'' he tosses lots of factual--and utterly terrifying--information on biological warfare...
  • An Epic Writer, An Epic Life

    THE FANS OF James Michener should be grateful that he was a bad Quaker. Had Michener, who died of kidney failure last Thursday in his Austin, Texas, home, stuck by the pacifist precepts by which he was raised, he would not have enlisted in the navy after Pearl Harbor. He would not have shipped out to the Solomon Islands, where he collected the material for his first book, ""Tales of the South Pacific.'' There would have been no Pulitzer Prize, and no Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. But Michener did enlist, his book became ""South Pacific'' and he became the author of huge--and hugely popular--novels about states and countries, even outer space.""Hawaii,'' Michener's first blockbuster best seller, appeared in 1959. Marrying fact with fiction to recount the history of the islands from the first volcanic burp through the arrival of everyone from the Polynesians to the pineapple barons, it was snapped up by the Book of the Month Club, condensed by Reader's Digest and sold to Hollywood...
  • The Death Of A Native Son

    MICHAEL DORRIS AND LOUISE Erdrich were the poster couple of multicultural literature--the best-paid, best-selling, best-reviewed Native American authors of the '80s and '90s. Their books won awards and got sold to Hollywood. She was quiet and beautiful, he was handsome and effusive, and together they charmed just about everyone they met. Even when the marriage went sour in the last few years, their friends couldn't help observing that it seemed to sour with style. How many men, after all, would dedicate a book to an estranged partner, "For Louise who found the song and gave me voice"? ...
  • Book Marks

    A SLENDER THREAD, by Diane Ackerman (Random House. $24). Diane Ackerman is a sort of hippie naturalist, and this is her latest excuse to chase butterflies. The book is ostensibly about Ackerman's work manning a crisis hot line. Still, you've got to wonder what suicidal callers would make of her fuzzy, planet-hugging effusions, reports on the revivifying effects of bicycling and endless chatter about the squirrels in her backyard. (Circle of life: yeah, we know.) Ackerman declines to discuss her own emotional resume, but does say airily, "I was born with a poet's sensibility, and Prozac made it impossible for me to do what comes naturally--think metaphorically, allusively, exploring the hidden connection between seemingly unrelated things." As a hot-line staffer, Ackerman has "empathy to the nth" and knows how to listen. But as a writer she sure loves the sound of her own voice. ...
  • Tracking Mommy

    ON SUNDAY, JUNE 22, 1958, JEAN ELL-roy, 43, was found choked to death on a side street in E1 Monte, a scuzzy southern California town. A divorced nurse, she had lived in El Monte with her only child, James. But when the 10-year-old boy got home Sunday night after a weekend with his father and learned his mother was dead, he was stoic. He didn't care that no one could find the killer. He was too busy looking forward to life with his good-for-nothing dad. "The boo-hoo stuff was behind me," Elloy recalls. "I spilled some tears on the bus--and that was that. My period of mourning ]asted half an hour." Or so he thought. ...
  • Shooting The West

    UPON RETURNING from a two-year pilgrimage to the California desert in the late '30s, the photographer Edward Weston exclaimed, "From sandstone concretions around the Salton Sea...to the badlands of Death Valley, there is enough material to keep a hundred photographers busy for years to come." You don't need to do the math to see that if you multiply that by all the Western states, you wind up with a heckuva photo op. And Weston was getting into the game about a century late. As "Perpetual Mirage," a new photography show at New York's Whitney Museum, makes brilliantly clear, white settlement of the West and the young art of photography both got going around the middle of the 19th century, with the result that photographers have helped shape our myths about the West as well as documented hard truths. The history of American thought, from Manifest Destiny to modern environmentalism, can be traced through the images photographers have sent back from the frontier. ...
  • Successful Sisters

    LIKE JAMES MICHENER AND HIS GENERATIONAL EPICS AND TOM CLANCY AND HIS techno-thrillers, Terry McMillan created a new literary genre with her upbeat novels about contemporary black women. Then she went those other writers one better: she created an entirely new audience to go with her genre. Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, a Philadelphia literary promoter, claims that for African-American women desperate for something to read, McMillan's "books have replaced dates in the '90s." ...