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May 15, 2005

Comments

Ed

Chris: It wasn't just me, but the entire group who picked Kate Atkinson. Are you even aware of the LBC voting process? We all read five books and voted accordingly. This wasn't a case of singling out Atkinson, but of considering her against the merits of the other four books. I don't see how such a process can be even safely described as hollow. If anything, it's quite the reverse. Because this is a group of supremely careful readers with strong literary sensibilities.

Of course, since your own books are published by a monolithic publishing entity, then I suppose that we should avoid your books too, eh? After all, by your definition, anyone who has (a) won a literary award, (b) received review coverage or (c) been published by a monolithic entity is "inappropriate." Well, sir, that cuts out a good deal of literature from the equation. I guess enjoying, let alone awarding CASE HISTORIES is equivalent to being a "literary demi-puppet."

I've heard this song and dance before. Are you sure that your last name isn't Wenclas?

Zeke

I’m with Chris and Steve. If the objective standard is literary excellence, then maybe you made a great selection. But if you add the burden of aiding “fiction, authors, and presses struggling to be noticed in a flooded marketplace,” then I think you missed the mark, and I have to say, the defensiveness in here is pretty funny. Bloggers, you should pay close attention to yourselves, because you’re sounding an awful lot like the book review mandarins you decry: condescending, impatient, self-important, self-justifying, and pretty safe and conventional at the end of the day. This seems to be the argument in favor of “Case Histories”:

(1) I never heard of it, so it must be obscure.
(2) It’s a terrific book.
(3) Actually, sticking with a well-known, highly-reputed author is a boldly counter-intuitive move.
(4) If you’re only famous in your home country, then you’re not quite famous enough.
(5) Did I mention that it’s a good book?
(6) If we haven’t nominated Philip Roth, then we’re serving overlooked literature.
(7) I know we said that we were setting this whole thing up to aid authors who are struggling to be noticed, but some of them were struggling so hard we couldn’t catch them. Maybe next time.
(8) It’s really a terrific book, you know.
(9) For suggesting that we’ve made the same pick as that which might have been made by any local book club constituted of reasonably intelligent people, as opposed to those on a self-ordained mission to aid and protect less-visible literature, we’ll red-bait you.
(10) Who pays attention to those silly prizes, anyway?
(11) By the way, it’s really a quality read.
(12) You probably don’t know what you’re talking about--let me explain about the book business.
(13) If you knew what a terrific book "Case Histories" is, you'd confuse it with an obscure book too.

Chris

Ed, if you can’t tell the difference between me and the King, then you do have a tin ear. Or maybe you just like cheap shots. I’d really like to know why you’re so pissed off at me for holding your own criteria up to you. Here’s the Village Voice on the Lit Blog Co-op: “...a virtual collective stretching across the country that will bestow attention on four books a year—literary books that would not, Sarvas promises, get review attention otherwise.” The AP says you’re “hoping to promote overlooked contemporary fiction.” And your objective appears in your own words at the top of the LBC page. Did I set forth any definitions? Well, no--but I can give it a shot. “Not getting review attention” would seem to suggest that very few reviews had appeared in the major press. “Overlooked” might seem to preclude the author’s being honored with a major literary award. “Struggling,” hmm. Well, for a start: maybe the author hasn’t sold North American rights? To several books? I mean, you can call this feather macaroni if you want, Ed. Talk is cheap. And you’re right: it’s your game. How dare I. But Zeke is right on. You sound as mad and defensive as Tanenhaus might. You’re not even reading what I’m saying. Have I suggested that CASE HISTORIES is a bad book? No, in fact I went out of my way to say that that wasn’t what I was suggesting at all. Literary demi-puppet. Nice. Yes, this is obviously straight out of the ULA playbook: criticize the LBC, you must be a moron provocateur. Brilliant, Ed.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Chris, sincerely said, I'd love to hear what books you'd nominate for the award. I'm always willing to add books to my teetering TBR and I'd love to add your suggestions in addition to the Atkinson I'm placing there. And while we're at it, I'd like to hear anyone else's suggestions for best not-given-enough-notice yet book of the year.

Chris

Off the top of my head: How about AMERICAN DESERT, by Percival Everett. That's Harcourt, I believe. 10:01 by Lance Olsen is pretty neat. That's by Chiasmus. THE COMPLEXITIES OF INTIMACY by Mary Caponegro is actually a couple of years old, I think, but I really think Mary Caponegro is terrific and could genuinely benefit from something like this. Coffee House. Then there's THE SEAS, by Samantha Hunt. McAdam Cage. MAGIC FOR BEGINNERS, by Kelly Link. Small Beer. Coming this summer. Anything by Lynne Tillman. Her new book can't find a publisher. Toby Olson springs to mind. That Pen-Faulkner winner published his last book with FC2, I believe. How about Minna Proctor's DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR. Came and went. Viking. And so on.

Sam

Chris, this is incredibly helpful. Only Olson would have qualified (Link's not out yet, Proctor's is non-fiction, and the rest came out too long ago to be considered), but I will guarantee you I'll read Olson (and anything else anybody wants to suggest) for possible inclusion as my nominee. And perhaps as we think about our criteria, we should reconsider our guidelines for publication date too.

Sam

Sorry, I mean Olsen, not Olson.

ed

Chris:

AMERICAN DESERT by Percival Everett: Reviewed by Sven Birkets in the NYTBR (May 9, 2004). Also the New Statesman, the Independent, many others. (Winner of PEN/Oakland-Josephine Miles Award and New American Writing Award.)

THE SEAS by Samantha Hunt: Reviewed in Literary Review, Village Voice, PW, Booklist, New Yorker, SF Chron, Elle, San Diego Union-Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Small Spiral Notebook, NY Observer. (See http://www.samanthahunt.net/reviews.html)

DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR? by Minna Proctor: Sunday NYTBR, Village Voice, USA Today, more. (Winner of PEN/Faulkner award)

Let's see: books that were written by award winners and that received major coverage! Why, who woulda thought?

I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning, don't you?

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

You know, I really don't see why someone doesn't just come out and ask ME who should be selected next time around. It'd save you-all a lot of reading, that's for sure. Meantime, I'm still looking forward to that Atkinson here...

Ron

Well, but we already know who you like, Lauren: Tommy Hays. And that's a good thing!

Now, I'm the guy who's said "Read This!" could be interesting "because of the attention it can bring to current writers at a time when they may especially need it," but I'm also the guy who pointed out that it could be "a new forum to address books and authors that aren't getting noticed elsewhere. Or maybe they do get noticed, but not nearly enough." As far as I'm concerned, Kate Atkinson meets that standard. As Katharine Weber points out above, she's "a wonderful writer who has yet to be sufficiently recognized in the US," and I'm happy to give her a little more attention.

Ed

Chris: I'm all for healthy criticism, but the argment here is that the LBC completely overlooked small presses, which wasn't the case at all.

Frankly, I'm as amused as Zeke by the uproar here. If we picked the graphic novel nomination, you would have complained that it didn't represent "literature." If we had picked the experimental novel, you would have complained that it wasn't traditional enough.

I suppose it must feel good to be a contrarian. But if you have any ideas about how to solve what you perceive as a predicament, I, for one, would love to hear them.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Hey, Ron, unfair! I've read 140+ books so far this year and come up with a few more goodies besides TH!

derikb

Chris: If I had been one of the nominators this time (or next around) Toby Olson's Blonde Box (FC2) was on my list of possible nominations (with one or two others). A fascinating book that really does need attention.

Sam: I highly recommend it.

bookdwarf

Ooh, that does sound like an interesting book Derik. Thanks for mentioning it.
Divided Kingdom is on my list of books, if I were a nominator. It's from Random House, but I think Rupert Thomason is an unknown author here in the US, unless I am mistaken.

Ron

You're right, Lauren! Didn't mean to pin you down too tightly...

Sam

Derik, I have not read Olson, but I just spend a few minutes looking it up and it sounds very cool.

As long as we're talking future potential nominees, I picked up Ander Monson's "Other Electricities" (Sarabande, 2005) a couple days ago. Crazy, funny, poetic, and dark, too - I've just been skipping around in it so far, but every place I jump in is fun. It's a phase, I guess: I'm rebelling against the relentless sequentiality of prose narrative.;-) Fortunately, this guy doesn't seem to care where you start. Maybe I'm also a sucker for a novel with lots of apparatus (contents, flow chart, drawings, index, appendix).

Just plucked it off the shelf at the bookstore the other day, knowing nothing about it. (I've heard of Sarabande, though.)

TEV

Chris,

I'd like to take a moment to weigh in. I think your points are well-taken, and it might surprise some readers (and fellow LBC members) to learn that I don't entirely disagree. I also agree that we run the risk of seeming merely defensive, and that detracts from meaningful book chat, so I'll try to keep it brief and constructive.

There are a few factors worth considering here. The first is that this is our first time out, and we are still feeling our way through this process. I admit that I was caught a bit off-guard when Case Histories was nominated; my initial reaction was not dissimilar to what some of you are experiencing now. But, after thinking about it for a while, I made a few decisions - first and most important was that it seemed important to give our nominators the widest possible latitude. Our bylaws have a few requirements - living author, not self-published, out within a year of the selection - but they are intentionally broad to allow maximum discretion. Further, I know and respect Lizzie's work, trust her taste and wanted to see where she would lead me (since, like others, it was a book I was aware of but had not read). That seemed to me in keeping with the spirit of this venture.

We've all been in agreement that authors like Roth, Ozick, Foer, Rushdie, McEwan, et alia are not the sorts of authors we're interesting in promoting here. But the "Second Tier" becomes considerably more complicated - it seems a nuanced, judgment-laden call: How well known is too well known? Authors like Atkinson, Andrew Greer and others, while having achieved a certain amount of press attention, are still unknown to LOTS of readers (I'm surprised how many folks still haven't heard of The Confessions of Max Tivoli), and that seems a slippery slope to start down. No authors with any major reviews? No authors with any prizes? As Ed suggests above, that would disqualify some seemingly "appropriate" fiction.

It's also my hope that when the nominations are revealed, people will see that a genuinely wide list of titles was considered. As it happens, this time out Case Histories scored the highest, fair and square.

Chris, I would also add that merely being published by a conglomerate should not be held against a book nor read as prima facie evidence of ... well, much of anything. I imagine the sales figures from James Wood's first novel - from FSG - aren't exactly barn burners.

Still, in the end I would not argue with you, Chris. We do appear to have selected a book that is, if not quite in opposition to our stated purpose, certainly angled at a somewhat oblique tangent to it. I do, however, continue to think that it's important (for precisely this reason) that our nominators have the space to follow their noses - the group always has the choice to turn thumbs up or down, and clearly, despite her self-deprecating words, this group has turned a hearty thumbs up on Lizzie's taste. As I said, I think the full list of nominees will give you a fuller story, and in the long run nothing will make me happier to look back in a year and see a group of titles reflecting a real range - that same range that makes up the diverse tastes of our group.

Sorry if the temperature got a bit high in here. We are, if nothing else, a colorful group of personalities. Hope you'll keep reading and see what comes next.

Michael

I've read all the comments from the Co-Opers and from guys like Chris above.

While imagining I can somehow chart a politcally correct (and wimpy) middle course through all this, I can't help but find myself on the middle fence line but leaning more towards a negative reaction.

And I might say in my "defense" that perhaps my disappointment is due to my misperceptions or stupidity or false expectation.

I don't doubt the book chosen is a fine book, but my expectation was for a gem in the rough, a really fine literary novel that didn't get noticed. The book chosen is a detective book with women in jeopardy and a plot point of clues to an old murder. We want the man to find the murderer of the innocent. Hey, great!

Thank you, I like it, just like scores of other detective novels, sure. If you go to themysteryreader.com you can find lots of interesting detective novels. Great archives, unique characters, riveting plots.

But it's not the choice I expected (obviously). I know people who don't even like the book and wonder why it got as much press as it did.

I'd hoped for something more "a rebours"?

Sorry. The Co-Op naturally isn't responsible for my biases, and besides, I have friends in the Co-Op (or I did).

Perhaps the wind will rise again, but right now I'm going to have a good weep and get over it.

Peace and Good Will

M

Chris

Gee, I can't win with you, Ed. Put forward a varied list of books like the one the Lit Blog Co-op considered, and I'm a hypocrite. Suggest that the LBC zeroed in on a well-covered, good-selling author, and I'm a communist. Nice instincts, Ed. Grrrrrr! But while you were feverishly doing your homework to riposte my good-faith suggestions, you might have noticed that one big difference between my suggestions and CASE HISTORIES is that mine have all, for the most part, slid out of sight. DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR did not win the Pen/Faulkner award--where'd you get that? None of these books received the sort of coverage that CASE HISTORIES did, but that's subjective. OK: a review in the Village Voice equals one in the daily Times. If you say so.

So I'm a contrarian. Huh. I'd always enjoyed your gadfly-persona, but I'm only now realizing how dependent it is on just being...contrary. Anybody reading these posts can see that I entered into the discussion in as mild-mannered a way as possible. I don't see any uproar here that doesn't stem from you. I guess you think the web's great until it starts talking back. Then, those nice instincts of yours kick in. The obscene communistic hypocrite dared to question you. Hey, I didn't call anybody names. Still haven't. I didn't condemn your choice on a literary basis. You're the one who rushed out of your little self-righteous literary cage howling, "How DARE you question our selection?" I mean: down, boy. And, like the rest of your criticisms, your hypothesis that I would have complained about any choice you made just doesn't hold water. I disagreed in a very specific way about a selection that would seem to be against the spirit of at least part of the Lit Blog Co-op's raison-d'etre. Part of the argument in her favor seems to be not that Kate Atkinson is obscure, but that she's not famous ENOUGH. Not quite the same thing--do you agree, Ed, that this much is true, at least? Can you put that gamy old leather bone between your big strong yellow teeth for a couple of secs and chew on it and agree: Not...quite...the...same...thing. Try it, in human words this time.

Frankly, Ed, I don't really care what you guys do. I was just getting into the dialogue because I spend a lot of time reading, writing, and thinking about literature. I didn't realize that I had to watch it. Do whatever you want. Pick PRINCESS DAISY. What did you expect, that you'd pick a book and everybody would gather in the Bedford Falls town square and say, "Thank God for the exquisite judgment and rehabilitative instincts of the Lit Blog Co-op!"?

Chris

Lauren, Sam, Derik, Mark, et al:

I'm sure the kinks will be worked out. I'm not quite sure how what I thought was a very straightforward criticism was misinterpreted as a condemnation of commercial publishing, literary award winners, Ms. Atkinson, and CASE HISTORIES, not to mention a presumptuous assessment of LBC's deliberative procedures. Not what I meant at all, as at least my first couple of posts will reveal. One thing to note is that, yeah--it's your first time out, and it was less my intetnion to slam your specific choice than to announce what's perhaps obvious, that people are paying attention. Good luck.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

"people are paying attention"

Yes. Absolutely. And hopefully, even when we are seemingly at loggerheads here, on some level we are all having some kind of fun. If we weren't, well, now that would be a shame.

derikb

For those disappointed with the selection (I'll admit I was, being in the second round of LBC draftees, not in on this first round of nominations/votings and thus haven't read the selection, but of the 5 choices consider Case Histories the one I would least likely want to read) I urge you to stay tuned for the the announcements and posts on the other 4 nominees, which offer a fairly broad range of tastes, publishers, notoriety, etc.

the happy booker

If had been a nominator this time around I would have put forth "Above the Thunder" by Renee Manfredi (MacAdam/Cage). Wow, wow, wow, that was a great book! Wendi

Ed

Chris: There's some chocolate chip cookies in the atrium. Care for one?

Arethusa

Heeey, Princess Daisy was a pretty good read when I was 11.

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