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May 15, 2005


patry Francis

Case Histories is a great choice. I'm going to pass along news of your recommendation on my blog, I'M REALLY NOT A WAITRESS.

Malcolm Campbell

I like the concept behind the READ THIS campaign and think you've picked an excellent book with which to demonstrate the need you are filling.

While you picked up the book and set it down several times, for most prospective readers, this book doesn't get taken out of the store, much less ordered on line.

We need more reviews such as yours--which quite possibly will tempt me to read the book--to help get the word out about books nobody's ever heard of that should not be missed.

--Malcolm Campbell

Deb Andolino

Each month the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA) posts a list of 'Killer Books' at
To quote the site: 'Every selection is a gem that otherwise might have gotten lost among the more than 100 mysteries published each month.' The May list has just been posted. Enjoy.

Deb Andolino
Aliens & Alibis Books
Columbia, SC


The cover image rings a bell, but not the title itself--which is a good thing, because it means you're introducing your readers to books they might not have found on their own. I'm looking forward to picking this one up. Thanks.


A great book and do I dare to hope that mine was the "trusted web site" of which the Old Hag wrote? ("Get over yourself, it was probably Sarah's.")

When a literary writer such as Atkinson takes on genre fiction, it's often with an immense amount of fanfare, chest-thumping and flag-planting: "I claim thee for literary fiction, you wretched little untamed genre!" And the results are anti-climactic. Atkinson made no such claim for her work. She has in fact, been open about her admiration for the form. And while it is common to say such books transcend the genre, I think "Case Histories" enlarged it. Defensive as I am about the crime genre, "Case Histories" showed me new possibilities; it was like seeing my hometown through the eyes of an astute, affectionate visitor. I hope she comes back.

(In interest of full disclosure, Atkinson kindly provided a blurb for my work -- but it was my burbling about her work that led my editor to seek her out, as my editor was equally crazy about "Case Histories.")

Jenny D

I loved CASE HISTORIES too, I think this is an excellent choice.


I read CASE HISTORIES a couple of months ago and didn't really take to it -- thought it was good, but the book didn't stay with me and I would not have overly recommended it to friends.

So it's really interesting to get this different perspective on it, and I look forward to following the resulting dialogue.

On the other hand -- I just finished SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND, which I bought *only because* a Lit Co-op member made such a compelling case for it, and that book just floored and moved and awed me.

I LOVE this blog, you guys. Because if there's anything that's almost as pleasurable as reading, it's talking about our experiences of reading, and getting access to opinions and experiences other than our own -- and, as in the case of MIND, being nudged towards books we would have otherwise gravitated away from, and coming out much richer for it.


A Kate Atkinson fan here very happy that CASE HISTORIES was chosen.

Kaytie Lee

I had the same reaction to the book that Lizzie describes upon seeing it. It will be good and telling for me to go back and get that book, having "judged it by its cover" once already.

I'm wondering if we will see the list of finalists? I can't just buy one book, after all.

Steve Mitchelmore

The Complete Review ( displays 15 reviews for this novel ranging from the LA Times to the TLS, from the Washington Post to The Scotsman.

You say yourselves that the LBC's purpose is to draw attention to "the best of contemporary fiction, authors and presses that are struggling to be noticed in a flooded marketplace".

So how does this novel qualify? It seems like a middlebrow cop out.


Have to agree with Steve, here. Nothing against Kate Atkinson, but a Whitbread Award Book of the Year winner whose latest novel is being published by Little, Brown hardly seems to be a choice in keeping with the spirit of the LBC's self-imposed mission.


Well I've never heard of the author or the book before-if I did it flirted at the periphery and then vanished-so I'm quite pleased with the selection based on that alone. Most people I know, though avid readers, don't really know which books won what awards, what time of year. (And Little Brown is suppose to be meaning something to me...right?)


Arethusa, I'm with you. I'm sure I must have seen her name before the LBC too, but if I did, it didn't stick.

Per Steve and Chris, why should rewards and recognition in the UK disqualify Atkinson from an effort to raise awareness in the US? Perhaps, by extension, Poland's Andrzej Stasiuk should also be disqualified. After all, *everybody* reads his column in the Gazeta Wyborcza. ;-)


Let me emphasize that my very mild objection to the selection of CASE HISTORIES is entirely separate from any feelings I may about its or its author's worth.

Arethusa, Little, Brown is an enormous trade publisher owned by Time Warner Communications, and they publish two of Atkinson's books in the states.

Sam, I just think some triage is in order. CASE HISTORIES is doing pretty well, ranked as of this writing at 1,320th on Amazon, with 28 customer reviews. OK, it's not EXTREMELY LOUD, but both the ranking and the attention paid it by readers is far above average. I'm not saying that every book selected by LBC should be put out by Dalkey or Milkweed or Copper Canyon or something, or that it should deliberately seek out "outre" books, just that this is clearly an accomplished and lauded author who has already achieved a certain stature. Surely there is another author out there in greater danger of slipping out of sight and who could really use your support.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

NB: When I woke up this morning and saw the selection, I checked out Amazon. At that time, the book was in the 6000s. It can be argued that it's the activity here that drove it to the 1320 you saw. I would also point out that unless you're talking about the highest-ranking Amazon titles, assuming that rank is indicative of across-the-board sales is generally a fallacy.


Were the 28 reviews written today, too?

But maybe suggesting that the book was doing well was the wrong idea. Look, I guess you either get what I'm saying or you don't. You want to select books that represent authors, publishers, and the very sort of fiction that's endangered today, then do that. You want to select the sort of books that the NYTBR will put on its "And Bear In Mind..." (or whatever they're calling it now) list, then do that. But the one simply isn't the same as the other. That's really all I'm saying.

Old Hag

Hey, Chris. I do admit to peculiar views on this subject, namely that since wonderful authors (Richard Yates, Nella Larsen, John P. Marquand) and less-popular books (Seraph on the Sewannee, anyone?) slip out of sight easily their brief blip of fame, anything that's not already regularly assigned in high school English is pretty much on the same level, if you take the long view. (I'm furthest out on the limb with this one, mostly because of a past career in publishing that taught me that every book except Iacocca is swept out to sea in the hideous onslaught.)

But, one thing to remember: This was our inaugural choice, and nominators only had to work with what they'd been scouring up until then, big and small. In the continuing rounds, small press publishers will have the same chance to get a wide assortment of books in front of the nominators as the big guns way beforehand, and it will be as close to fair as any contest is.

Also, I will not be nominating, and therefor not f---ing up the mix with my totally supermax publisher taste.

(Speaking of Amazon reviews: one of my books has, like, 15 reviews. I think it was a Sweet Valley High novel. Amazon reviews do not = "And Bear in Mind....", sadly.)


Chris, this isn't really about selecting one type of book. That's why there are 20 of us.

I'm not really arguing with your point that there are authors who could use the support far more than Atkinson. But I'm glad this is our first pick. I think we avoided the one-upsmanship that can occur when people are serious about books. Rather than being the cop-out Steve suggests, I think this was a rather bold choice -- both for the genre-influenced form and the fact that the author isn't that obscure. (I think the "safeness" of the choice is effectively refuted by this thread.;-)

Not least, Case Histories is just an indisputably good book on almost any dimension -- language, narrative form, character -- it kind of demonstrates the best of what a writer working creatively within established forms can do. I wouldn't have read this book if someone else in LBC hadn't nominated it, and now I understand why Atkinson is someone anybody reading contemporary fiction needs to know.

Still, I expect that our future picks will dig deeper into that large pool of writers who aren't getting any significant attention. I've got more than a couple in mind when it's my turn to nominate. Stick around.



I suppose I am simply easier to please: if it's not a "classic", I don't hear about it from a friend, spy it in some prominent position at a bookstore or have it recommended to me by a bookseller, chances are I won't be familiar with it. There are certainly varying degrees of desperation among tiers of writers and publishers, but I have so often read on various industry blogs about how the traditional means of promotion are not as effective as one would think, that I no longer generally assume that New Yorker review and Economist review (or whatever) = inevitable household name.

Sure people generally know that the Whitebread, Pulitzer, Nobel, National etc. exist, but please don't ask us for specifics. (Or maybe I'm just an ignorant Miss ;-).) Amazon reviews? Those won't reach me unless I intentionally search for the book in the first place (or it's lucky enough to come up as a recommendation based on my purchasing history).


Oh and thank you Chris, for explaining what Little, Brown is.


I should also point out that this was the "biggest" book of the five nominations. (The other four will be revealed here in the following weeks.)

To whit:

1. Kate Atkinson has not received a smidgen of coverage in the New York Reveiw of Books.

2. While Salon selected CASE HISTORIES for its Best Books of 2004, it never thought to review the book separately.

3. CASE HISTORIES was chosen by eleven people and it was an extremely close race between this and the book that I nominated, which came from a small publishing house. To suggest that we haven't considered the little guys when you're ignorant of the other nominations is to try and bludgeon a roan horse you can't even find in the stable. (For the record, I also happened to love this book, had not read anything written by Kate Atkinson before this, and I'm a guy who's in the business of staying on top of these things.)

Look, folks, it's not as if we nominated John Updike, Philip Roth, Andrea Levy, David Mitchell or Kazuo Ishiguro here. And I'd agree with the sentiments if we had "sold out" along the obscene lines implied.

For the Marx-reading rabble-rouser who thinks we've given into The Man, I would politely suggest that he doesn't understand publishing or the media in general. 90% of all publishing houses are owned by some monolithic entity. Is this a BAD thing? Well, yes and no. On one hand, literary books like Atkinson's get published. On another hand, a lot of experimental books fall by the wayside. But we HAVE been considering these books. There were four other books after all.

Of course, if something published under the umbrella of Time Warner is something which heightens your blood pressure, you're more than welcome to ignore anything the LBC suggests, as is your right. For the rest of us, we're here to celebrate quality books. And I know that I don't speak alone when I say that CASE HISTORIES is the shit, yo.


I raved about this book last year.

Excellent choice. Most certainly like, the shit. Yo.


Obscene? Marx-reading rabble-rouser? Selling out to the Man? Ed, you're the one whose made it your mission to beat Tanenhaus over the head with his inadequacies each week. (And when did not getting a review in the NYRB become the baseline for establishing neglect?)

I don't have a problem with books that are published by monolithic corporate entities. I'm published by a monolithic corporate entity. What I've been suggesting (and without getting insulting about it, Ed) is not that CASE HISTORIES is a lousy book, or that the LBC should select only books hand-printed in elegant letterpress editions by intrepid pioneers in the Vermont woods, or that if it ain't by Ronald Sukenick then it's as good as Grisham. I'm suggesting that the LBC can make more appropriate picks than Whitbread winning, Best Book of the Year List Making, heavily reviewed books that are, incidentally, published by enormous trade houses--if you're really interested in helping contemporary authors. Don't get your back up about it. To suggest that you "considered the little guys" while then giving the nod to someone who is, by every conceivable definition, a bigger "guy" rings pretty hollow, Ed. Sorry. It just does.

Like I said, you either get it or you don't.


I did pick up CASE HISTORIES because of Laura's recommendation on her Web site, and loved it. The language and story stayed with me for quite a while afterward. Fabulous choice.

Katharine Weber

Atkinson is a wonderful writer who has yet to be sufficiently recognized in the US. CASE HISTORIES is so sly, so playful with genre and conventional form, that I am convinced a lot of the nice reviews it got were written by people who didn't quite understand what she had actually written and what they had actually read.

I reviewed her second novel, Human Croquet, for the NYTBR, and it remains for me one of the great novels I have read in the past twenty years.

Hats off to you all for selecting CASE HISTORIES.

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