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May 15, 2005



It seems that there may be a lot to be said about/to the LBC.... possibly more than a "comments" section can easily accomodate (or is designed for).

Have y'all thought about also settig up some kind of message board/forum.? Such as:
* LBC Sucks
* LBC Rocks
* Discuss the current selection
* General Lit discussion
* Viagra ads

One site (for example) that has this is where


Haven't read it or her yet. haven't got time now (in the middle of moving) BUT I do hope this site develops a list of recommended reading for us dawdlers to catch up with later, as I think a website promoting literature in general is a great thing, and to get this many pro/con comments means you're doing something right.

If you already have a reading list, forgive me. I haven't found it yet (or looked for it yet) but I do hope you have one.

Keith Chaffee

I'll join those who've expressed disappointment at the choice; I'd hoped -- and expected, from your early manifestos -- for a choice that was truly off the beaten path, an author and a book that was genuinely being overlooked. This seems an awfully safe and comfy choice. Ah well, there's always next time...

Lauren Cerand

I believe this book is an excellent choice, and I've enjoyed the broader conversation about what constitutes an "overlooked book," both here and elsewhere -- like many readers, I feel overwhelmed by what's out there and inundated with far more brilliant suggestions for recommended reading that can reasonably be entertained. And like several people have commented, I saw CASE HISTORIES a couple of times online and in bookstores and didn't take the time to look further. I'm going to do that now based on the LBC's endorsement. This is definitely a very cool concept, and I'm excited to see what's next.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Everyone seems to be pretty much well getting along for the moment. Rats, since now I have little excuse to pull out the Twisted Sister anecdote.


Web del Sol will volunteer use of its Writers Block board if the LBC and/or the participants here need or want.

It's mostly poetry at this point, but we can carve out a new forum for LBC Commentary, Fiction Review Commentary, The Minority View, or whatever anyone wants to name it.

Let me know.


Jozef Imrich

Art must give suddenly, all at once the shock of life, the sensation of breathing. -Constantin Brancusi

Case Histories does that! May your movement make the virtual History (There is always a case for his story and/or her story = our story ;-)

Adam Ash

Well argued, Chris. I don't think Defensive Ed will be party to the same mistake again. What may have driven LBC with this one was they thought they were:
1) Giving a well-known Brit some U.S. props, to make her well-known here, too.
2) Giving the lit nod to a genre writer.
Both kind of patronising gestures, to my mind. BTW, thanks for your suggested list. I'll read them before I read Case Histories.


Just personal taste.

To me, a detective novel is like watching television. I kick back and get a cheap thrill even though I realize the formula of obvious manipulation.

It's all entertainment. Nothing wrong with that.

But what's the point?

And nothing wrong with choosing any critcally acclaimed novel regardless of sales. Nothing wrong at all. But why does THIS novel need cheering? Because it's overlooked? An underdog? An undiscovered wonder? Has anyone answered that yet? Perhaps, but are arguments about the book's quality irrelevant to the answer?

It's perhaps good genre (though some disagree and sales are off), yes, and it got mega amounts of attention, yes, but why does THIS BOOK need more attention? Because out of the 100% of total attention it will ever get in its entire existence the LBC's 8 to 12.3% of this total sum will be just enough? Cross a magical line? Bring the book X amount of more readers who MUST have the depths of their souls enriched by yet another detective story?


But what's the point?

And, well, we reviewed the indie presses, sure ... (but we dismissed them). What difference does it make if they were "considered" as long as they were rejected? Only the bottom line matters--the choice of detective fans everywhere.

I do like detective novels, and SF also. Don't get me wrong.

But what's the point?

And why not a romance novel next? Hordes will appear to cheer it on. Lots of cheerleaders for this mob-popular art form. 50% of total novel sales are for romance novels, yes? And Kmart can always find plenty of buyers for a good posed-in-velvet Elvis.

So what's the point?



The idea that Kate Atkinson is "the choice of detective fans everywhere" is not one I've found to have much traction in the reality-based community.

Reagan Arthur

I'm the book's editor, so I'm hardly a disinterested party. Obviously I'm thrilled by its selection, and increasingly fascinated/horrified by the ensuing debate which seems to be convincing some people NOT to read the book because a) it's published by a big company so it had its chance; b) it involves a mystery so it must be "genre" fiction which is by definition not worth reading (so long, Dickens! see ya, Chandler! you're dead to me, ATONEMENT!); and c) it got a lot of review attention which, along with this nod, is proof that the book is, again, not worth reading.
"Read this!" It's what we all love to say and to hear --"I loved this book and I think you will, too." Naturally no book will please every reader, but shouldn't the book be judged by its contents, not its pedigree?


Adam, if you have a patent on your crystal ball I'd suggest you go back to the drawing board with it. Neither of your proposed motivations were ever mentioned in any form by LBC members - we simply voted for the nominated book we liked best. Trying to impute motive is almost always a losing proposition ...


Speaking only for myself, it wasn't the book that I was "judging." I was questioning the choice of the LBC. My objection, such as it is, certainly has nothing to do with genre, or with the quality of the book. I haven't read the book. Though, taken individually, any of the three bases for my objection--that it was published by a trade house, that it was reviewed very prominently, and that its author has been showered with acclaim including a very prestigious and well-known literary award--might understandably have led someone to believe that neither the work nor its author was either struggling or obscure, it was the concatenation of these things that gave me pause. In fact, all three form a chain whose links are the elements we would most commonly associate with the idea of "success" in an author: well-published, well-reviewed, well-honored.

Reagan Arthur and others have missed the point. It was the LBC who set the standard; it was the LBC who specifically declared that a book's pedigree--or, rather, its lack of imprimatur, of attention, of acclaim--would help to determine which titles it would attempt to rescue from inattention. These are not criteria that I and others have come along to attempt to foist on the LBC; it is NOT, as someone suggested, a ULA-style assault on commercial publishing or paranoid fantasy of literary cabalists concentrating the prestige and money and attention in very few hands; and it is not a condemnation of Kate Atkinson or her work.

As far as I'm concerned Kate Atkinson has been very fortunate in her career. There is no objective measure by which you can claim her as a "failure." I would say her career is on the upswing: she is established in the UK, and becoming known here in the U.S. Perhaps her next will be her so-called "breakout" book. She's in a position for something like that. Of course, there are no guarantees, and she could use more readers. But you could say the same about nearly any writer. Nobody's got a sinecure. Everybody's got to hustle. The point is, some authors have never gotten breaks like Atkinson, and if you're on a self-styled mission to redeem neglected literature, then those are the writers you shine a light on.


Well-published, well-reviewed, well-honored.

So, people who buy, read, enjoy, and recommend books to their friends aren't part of the success formula?

Just checkin'.


Collective recommendations (award winners, book club picks) may be "mainstream" or "played" (not sure whom I'm quoting here), but I find that some of my favorite new reading experiences have come from such recommendations. I'd heard of Kate Atkinson in passing, probably from reading The Guardian, but never thought seriously of reading her books until now. I'm glad you're taking the time to be one big pushy friend and get us to read a book the collective "you" enjoyed. ("Popular" and "well-known" are so arbitrary anyway: I have several well-read friends who have never heard of Murakami.)

Also, in the interest of promoting literature that is often ignored, everyone should visit the Reading the World project website, which promotes reading literature in translation. Far, far more overlooked stuff (and some well-known stuff too) for you die-hards.

Brenda Coulter

Jeepers. What's the point in buying the book when perusing the comments on this blog provides all this great entertainment for free?



I'd respond that they buy the books in the first place because the books have been well-published. Clearly Little, Brown published CASE HISTORIES very well. Word of mouth isn't measurable in the same sense as sales or advances but it is important (I would say litblogs are an exponentially enhanced form of word of mouth and that the Read This! idea was conceived in that spirit (tell me if I'm wrong)) and it can't begin without an awareness that something has been published. A review by Maslin in the Times will bring about that awareness. What's the percentage of novels published that receive a review in the daily Times? Pretty small, I'd wager. Probably a fraction of a percentage point. So I'd say that a book like CASE HISTORIES has a big edge when it comes to bringing people to the point at which the dominoes--buy, read, enjoy, recommend--begin to drop. The sort of books I'm talking about are ones you would have been a lot more likely to miss.


I, too, am surprised by the selection. It just seems contra to LBC's stated mission. So disappointment this first time around but we await the fall recommendation with (diminished) anticipation.


Brenda Coulter wrote: "What's the point in buying the book when perusing the comments on this blog provides all this great entertainment for free?"

I'm just hanging out to see if this guy Chris posts a website or blog link. I'd buy what he recs in a heartbeat.


After "Behind the Scenes at the Museum," I would read Kate Atkinson's grocery lists.
OK, that's not true: I balked at "Emotionally Weird." But still I recommend you give "Behind the Scenes" a try. You can probably still find $3 remaindered copies at


Yeah, or you could buy it new. It's in print. Picador. And then the author gets 7.5%.


Mark, the only reason I'm trying to "impute" motive -- or rather, trying to find a logical reason for your selection -- is because your clearly stated mission doesn't supply a reason for what you did. You said you were going to do one thing, and then you upped and did another. Why? If Chris has done one good thing, he's reminded you to bear your mission in mind next time you commit to action.

Dan Green

I think it's very unfair to pick out Mark Sarvas as the "you" behind the LBC and to make such charges as "You said you were going to do one thing, and then you upped and did another." Mark (or Ed, either, for that matter) never said he was going to do anything except participate in the voting process. We did exactly what the mission statement said we'd do: Five books were nominated and a vote was held. Case Histories prevailed. There's nothing Mark Sarvas or anyone else here could do about that other than accept it. There's going to be a Minority Opinion, and it's going to register some dissent against the choice. It may even agree with some of the comments made in this thread. What else do you want?


What I don't understand is that if the LBC mission was to help the underdog (yes? no?) then how did the winner even qualify in the first place?

She isn't an underdog by any definition.

And I just can't imagine a scenario wherein voters said to themselves, "Poor Kate, she doesn't have enough readers!"

I still don't get it.

Perhaps it will get clearer.


I didn't post for a while because I was so disappointed, for the same reasons as Chris, Michael and a few others: I'd hoped that this bunch of people, bloggers who love books and love reading, would send me in the direction of someone I had never heard of and couldn't wait to get to know.

Then you came up with Kate Atkinson--hell, I had friends in Delhi and Kanpur and Thiruvananthapuram grabbing me by the collar and saying, Read this! Now! when Behind the Scenes at the Museum came out. She's hardly what you'd call unknown.

But... it's tough, trying to put together something like this, and you're doing the best job you can.

And this I have to say: Case Histories is a brilliant read, she's a wonderful writer, and if part of the LBC's agenda was simply to celebrate good reading, this book has to qualify. You may not have stuck to the agenda, but you reminded me to buy a couple more copies of the book for various friends, and that can't be all that bad.

(Note to Atkinson's agent: all better now?)

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