I OFTEN PONDER the role played by luck in the fates of books and authors. Are some authors luckier than others? Are there lucky breaks for writers, the literary equivalent of the understudy who replaces a lead actor in a show and becomes a star overnight? Do we make our own luck? Can good luck be bought or manipulated? Can bad luck be avoided? Are some of us simply, to use the poignant Yiddish word, schlimazels, those hapless folks who always seem to be standing under the flowerpot when it falls from a windowsill?
Our natural egotism rejects the notion that our successes or failures are the products of random and indiscriminate accidents. This may be particularly true for writers, not (just) because they possess an excessive ...