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November 11, 2004
Caryn James Gets the Moody Bluesby Ron Hogan
Caryn James tells NYT readers just what she thinks about this year's crop of National Book Award nominees: "[t]he minor resemblances of sex and city are nothing next to what really makes this one of the least varied lists of nominees in recent years: a short-story aesthetic. Not one of these books is big and sprawling. And not one has much of a sense of humor." Which is just plain wrong--The News From Paraguay and Our Kind aren't exactly Laurel and Hardy, but they do have a sense of humor bubbling beneath what James dubs "precious writers' program language" much like "the style, say, of Rick Moody, the novelist and short-story writer who is chairman of the five-person fiction panel and who has been known to write some woozily poetic prose of his own." Then she gets meta on us:
Awards are inherently silly, but there's a method to their silliness. Whether it's the National Book Awards, the Tonys or the Oscars, contests become guides to what the public might want to catch up on, offering something-for-everyone choices. For the best-picture Oscar, there is an art house film and a popcorn movie, a Lost in Translation and a Lord of the Rings.
Never mind that LOTR was more than just three "popcorn movies"; never mind that the only thing more inherently silly than awards would, almost by definition, be somebody who spends their time pontificating over them. (And never mind that when the NYTBR comes out this weekend, you'll see that it's almost as if James was passing notes with Laura Miller in English class.) Galleycat makes an excellent detailed criticism of the anti-elitist assault on the "short-story aesthetic", while OGIC of About Last Night finds a more positive spin, noting that James has some nice things to say about each book individually even as she attacks them as a class. And while I'm too busy right now to do more than steer you towards their responses, the Laura Miller piece definitely merits detailed response, and you'll find it here this weekend.
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