IT Critic's Critic
WHY HER? Her first novel, 2000's The Mineral Palace, got great reviews. And yet she still took a big bear swipe at critics in ''The Snarky Dumbed-Down World of Book Reviewing,'' a throw-down essay that ran in the first issue of her new Dave Eggers-backed literary journal, The Believer (fellow It Lister ZZ Packer is a columnist).
A BAD REVIEW? BRING IT. ''If there's one thing that I've been frustrated with in terms of how my essay has been read -- and I would put 'read' in quotes because this is how it gets talked about by people who haven't actually read it -- it's that they feel I'm advocating this toothless form of criticism.''
IDEAL BOOK REVIEWER ''An excited fan.''
WORST JOB ''I was 25 years old and working a catering gig at this huge New Yorker fashion-issue party at the beginning of the Tina Brown era. I was dressed up as Eustace Tilley, the New Yorker character with the top hat and butterfly. We literally had these rhinestone monocles glued into our eye sockets.''
NEXT Book critics will get to sink their teeth into her second novel, The Effect of Living Backwards, when it's published this month.
IT Dry Guy
WHY HIM? His first memoir, the twisted and delicious Running With Scissors, about growing up with a cuckoo-clock mother and her sick shrink, was a surprise best-seller. But no one will be shocked when his second memoir, Dry, about his hard-drinking days in New York City's advertising world, follows suit.
AND HE THOUGHT HIS CHILDHOOD WAS CRAZY... ''I had an old lady stop me on the street, very well dressed, very attractive. And she said, 'I loved your memoir! You know, when I was a little girl, my mother gave me Dr Pepper enemas and made me drink them!'''
ON HITTING THE BOTTLE ''It seems like everyone is an alcoholic, about to be an alcoholic, or married to one.''
ON HITTING THE ROAD He'll visit 10 cities before letting loose on a western Massachusetts car dealership. ''I'm doing a reading at the end of my tour at my brother's parking lot. He's been selling my books on the front register, so he said, 'We'll do an evening of cars and literature!'''
ON HIS PAST ''[My childhood] was dirty, it was foul, it was skanky, it was humiliating, it was just crazy. But it feels wonderful to have turned such a hideous tuna can of a childhood into something shiny and nice.''
ON HIS PRESENT ''I'm happier than I even knew I was allowed to wish to be. I'm in a really stable relationship, I have close friends, and I have this dream career.''
NEXT Look for Magical Thinking, a collection of true stories culled from his life, in 2004. ''I'm going to write a book a year, until people get too sick of me.'' Impossible.
IT Get Shorties
ZZ PACKER + ANTHONY DOERR
AGES 30, 29
WHY THEM? Their short-story debuts -- Packer's Drinking Coffee Elsewhere and Doerr's award-winning The Shell Collector -- are more substantial than stuff 10 times their length.
WEIRD BRUSHES WITH CELEBRITY Doerr says Michael Keaton read his story ''The Hunter's Wife'' and loved it. ''I've actually had beers [with him]. He'll just call and be like, 'What's going on?!' That is so bizarre to me. And flattering.'' Packer's fans include John Updike, who picked Coffee for the Today show book club in May.
WORST JOB Packer cleaned toilets at Yale, but says that was cake compared with writing content for a dotcom start-up. ''You had kids who were, like, 23... and they had all this money, and they were like Marketing Blah Blah Blah.... It was culturally bankrupt.''
NEXT Writing novels. Packer will tackle the Buffalo Soldiers; Doerr's protagonist is a snow hydrologist who believes his dreams predict the future. (''Sounds cheesy, but I take heart in that a lot of my favorite novels sound cheesy when you summarize them.'')