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October 25, 2004

Somebody Stick Up for the NBA Nominees, Please

by Ron Hogan

Boris Kachka supplies the New York take on the National Book Award nominees, who "seem a little obscure this year." Even the head of the National Book Foundation, Harold Augenbraum, is joining in the dogpile on the authors, though I'm hoping that when he called them "a parochial lineup" the reporter was just failing to fully convey his dripping sarcasm. (UPDATE: Mr. Augenbraum writes in: "Despite what appeared in the magazine, I never said the group was 'parochial,' never used the word at all in a 15-minute phone interview. How did those words end up in the magazine? Got me." I'm rather inclined to believe him.)

And here's Kachka's own contribution to the "these nominees are killing the publishing industry" meme:

"WouldnÂ’t it be more interesting if, say, these novelists were up against name writers with acclaimed new works, such as Philip Roth or Cynthia Ozick?"

By "interesting," of course, he seems to mean "less work for our lazy brains." We might "have" to learn about five new authors? Perish the thought!


Ron, I'm with you.

These commentaries seem to flow from a bunch of fraudulent hacks who should be dismissed from ever again being taken seriously as commentators on the literary world.

Please correct my imperfect memory, but didn't these so called major awards used to recognize new talent as a matter of course?

Posted by: birnbaum at October 25, 2004 09:39 PM

I'm all for obscure authors of quality getting recognition, but wouldn't it have placed them into a more meaningful context if Roth, Ozick or Oates had been on the list? Can we really expect the NBA to bring merit to ALL novelists who deserve recognition? Imagine the recognition of an unknown if she wins against one of the recognized giants.

Posted by: Jose Sotolongo at October 26, 2004 11:13 AM

So we should load the shortlist with big name dead weight to make little authors look better when they beat out the famous people? I don't think so.

Of course, I know you didn't mean anything that extreme. But my basic point is this: you don't get a place on the shortlist for being a "recognized giant," and you don't get it for everything you've ever written. You get it for writing what a panel of judges considers to be one of the five best books of the last twelve months--and as much as I'm currently enjoying The Plot Against America, I can see how it didn't make the grade. (No idea about the Ozick or the Oates.) "Quality," however nebulous that term may be, strikes me as a meaningful enough context without dragging "celebrity" into the mix.

Posted by: editor at October 26, 2004 11:21 AM

The fact is, by making the short list when those well known books and authors didn't already boosts the status of their writing. The reaction shouldn't be to the tune of 'how in the hell is THAT better than Roth.' Instead it should be, 'Wow, the judges think those WERE better than Roth, Ozick, etc. Maybe I should take a chance.'


Posted by: Dan Wickett at October 26, 2004 08:12 PM

Christine Schutt was my sixth-grade English teacher, and a very good one. Far from being obscure, then, she has a particularly lucid place in my memory. . .

Posted by: emily at October 27, 2004 10:03 AM
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