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April 20, 2009

Comments

Matt

Yeah, but Crash won best picture. So that's game over right there.

Pete Rooke

You might, or might not, want to listen to Coetzee talk about prizes as part of some obscure panel at an Australian university:

http://www.nobel.uts.edu.au/programs/coetzee.html

Niall

I think protesting prizes is a silly thing to do. After all, setting up a literary prize is as easy as 1-2-3, and if you don't like the way the Nobels or the Bookers are handed out, just start your own.

I will say, though, that it's odd the Pulitzers have ceased to be a bellwether for taste in literature, whereas the Booker has retained that cachet.

a new nadir

Any argument against the Nobels is usually based on an American dislike for the haughtiness of the selection committee. But what's so wrong with that? I'm sure the same complaints are leveled against awards that are typically awarded to Americans (the Oscars comes to mind, but there are others, I'm sure). That Steinbeck, Buck, and Faulkner are the only Americans to have won the prize seems to suggest that the only kind of American literature that's permissible to European sensibilities is a quaint primitivism that doesn't make any claims on the direction of Western culture or imagination.

TEV

Nadir, you need to do a little more homework. Plenty of other Americans have won the prize - Morrison, as noted above. Also Isaac Singer, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway.

M

That anyone thinks of Faulkner's work as "quaint primitivism" that "doesn't make claims on the direction of Western culture or imagination" strikes me as- not just misguided- but actually kind of freaky.

Michael Larson

Why can't a legitimate literary counter-argument be made for Pearl S. Buck? She did publish some middle of the road work, but so have many Nobel winners (Steinbeck comes to mind). Buck wrote two or three of the best novels about China ever published, at least five novels that can be considered great, a host of amazing short stories, as well as numerous quality essays on China and Asia. A writer's mediocre works shouldn't overshadow their great ones, especially when those achievements are truly unique works of literature (I don't think anyone will again capture pre-modern China in a novel the way Buck did).

If one is going to argue that her achievement was lessened because she was a westerner writing about China from an internal perspective, then consider that she was raised in China, tutored by a Confucian scholar, and spoke Chinese as a first language. If the problem is that she is writing about China in English then I suppose Ha Jin's Waiting didn't deserve the National Book Award that it won (which I don't believe, Waiting was also an amazing book). I really don't see the argument that so many contemporary writers and critics are referring to when they condemn Buck out of hand. If I had to speculate I'd say that the recent demise of Buck's reputation has more to do with the contemporary trend of only allowing authors to write about their own ethnic groups, sexualities, etc (and often pigeon-holing them as writers that must always about these inherent traits). If anything, Buck's works show that the ethnicity of our authors need not play the imposing role that it currently does in our literature.

Luchy

Awards are perfectly imperfect. I love watching the Oscars, knowing it's all self glorification, and that often the movies that are highly praised don't deserve to be, that they were just lucky to be screening during a bad year for creativity and originality.

doug worgul

"rococo"

Nice.

esaúl

I just have one thing to say:
Borges.

The Swedish Academy can suck it.

Clarity

Sinclair Lewis was a genius and to call Steinbeck mediocre is beyond belief. All hail mediocrity in that case.

I hate to disagree with you but Scorsese's Oscar triumph was primarily due to "Infernal Affairs"'s Director and started off the pillaging of the Asian Film Industry.

The comments to this entry are closed.

TEV DEFINED


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."

SECOND LOOK

  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

    Bs

    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe

    Rider_4

    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."