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October 12, 2005

Comments

Michelle

The only reason I can think of is the stereotypical one: many Americans don't read serious literature (hence little effect on the sales of Pulitzer or National Book Award winning books), whereas a majority of Brits--or at least a significantly larger portion than the Americans--do read seriously (hence the effects of the Booker Prize).

yeselson

Hazard a guess? It's complicated phenomenom, but not a difficult question to answer.

Try the deep historical well-springs of American anti-intellectualism, exemplified by a reactionary evangelical religiousity drenched in cheap sentimentality; a secular worship of business culture with a corresponding emphasis on "practical" intelligence, as opposed to "elitist", impecuniary literature and other forms of art; and a faux populist political style, embodied by our current president, which exploits the above trends and, implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, denigrates artistic and intellectual achievement.

You can read all about it in Richard Hofstadter's 1964 classic, "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life", or crib from a brilliant synthetic shortcut, Todd Gitlin's 2000 essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "The Renaissance of American Anti-Intellectualism."

This is America--we have many strengths, but championing and rewarding literary excellence is not one of them.

Luke


The Booker Prize is broadcast live on BBC television and the weeks leading up to the award are full of speculation on radio shows - the BBC also produces television programmes on each of the short listed book so there is a lot of anticipation. Add to that the newspaper's literary pages taking a keen interest, and the fact the winner of the prize makes front page headlines in the following days paper, is interviewed on breakfast TV and profiles are always run in the aftermath, its not difficult to see why the publishing industry covets the Booker so much.

Interestingly, other prizes like the Orange, the Whitbread, and the Samuel Johnson Award for Non Fiction also receive significant media, television and radio coverage - so there is always something going on, keeping literature in the news and general culture.

Nick

From my experience of reading both Pulitzer and Booker winners I'd guess it's because they choose different types of book. I'm not exaclty sure what it is, but I've never read a Booker winner I haven't loved while I've rarely enjoyed a Pulitzer winner.

Combined with what Luke says, I suspect that picking winners with popular appeal might have something to do with it.

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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

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    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.
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    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."