Of Course, It Could Also Be That Midlist Literary Writers Need Something on the Mantle to Justify Their Poverty

Louis Menand offers this interesting overview of book award circlejerks-cum-review of James English’s The Economy of Prestige: “What makes them valuable is the recognition that they are valuable. This recognition is not automatic and intuitive; it has to be constructed. A work of art has to circulate through a sub-economy of exchange operated by a large and growing class of middlemen: publishers, curators, producers, publicists, philanthropists, foundation officers, critics, professors, and so on. The prize system, with its own cadre of career administrators and judges, is one of the ways in which value gets ‘added on’ to a work. Of course, we like to think that the recognition of artistic excellence is intuitive. We don’t like to think of cultural value as something that requires middlemen—people who are not artists themselves—in order to emerge. We prefer to believe that truly good literature or music or film announces itself. Which is another reason that we need prizes: so that we can insist that we don’t really need them. “


William Vollmann won the National Book Award for Europe Central. Way to go, Vollmann. It is about time that Mr. Vollmann’s incredible output be recognized.

Between this and Banville winning the Booker, part of me wonders if there is some karmic conspiracy amongst the West Coast litbloggers and these awards.

When Vollmann accepted the award, he said, “I thought I’d lose, so I didn’t prepare a speech.” Ron has a first-hand account of the many “Oh my Gods” shouted over this unexpected win. But what’s also interesting is that many of the news outlets are putting Didion’s nonfiction victory for The Year of Magical Thinking over Vollmann’s win.

BBC: “Didion and Mailer win book prizes.”

Boston Globe: “Didion wins nonfiction Book Award.”

Reuters: “Top US nonfiction prize goes to Joan Didion.”

If Mary Gaitskill or Christopher Sorrentino had won instead of Vollmann, would they have received such secondary billing? Well, likely, given that Didion is the grand dame of nonfiction. But it’s interesting that the coverage, which has in past years valued the fiction winner over the nonfiction winner, has done just the reverse.

Other winners included poet W.S. Merwin for Migration. Merwin has been nominated for seven other awards, but had not won. Jeanne Birdsall won the young people’s literature award for The Penderwicks.

For more information on Vollmann, check out the Vollmann Club.

[UPDATE: And more here from Sarah, noting that the “minor surprise” or the “unsurprising” reactions that seem to have been reported after the fact (Vollmann won? Oh shit! Get that gun-toting nut off Page E1 because middle America isn’t interested in him. And, for god’s sake, play up Didion! Everyone loves Joan!) were very much not in evidence at the actual awards ceremony.]

[UPDATE 2: With associations of Merwin dancing in his head, Litkicks describes the 1975 dustup between Ginsberg and Merwin.]

[UPDATE 3: A good writeup by the Book Standard folks: “Vollmann began his acceptance speech about ten feet to the right of the microphone, and had to be shepherded over by an attendant. Still, in a tuxedo that looked several sizes too big for him, he came off quite charming, saying that he hadn’t expected to win, and so hadn’t prepared a speech, which, from the confused content of his thanks, appeared, for once, to be true….Vollmann’s win, then, may have been in part a big fat raspberry directed at the people who hoped the award would go to someone who sells.”

Four Books Enter, One Book Leaves

The Whitbread shortlists have been announced. While Rushdie received no love from Booker, he might just be making a comeback with Whitbread. I’m mystified, however, why Nick Hornby was nominated, given that one of the judges is a bit fastidious. But we’ll see how this all plays out.


A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie
the accidental by Ali Smith
The Ballad of Lee Cotton by Christopher Wilson


The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw
26a by Diana Evans
The Short Day Dying by Peter Hobbs
Gem Squash Tokoloshe by Rachel Zadok


Haw-Haw The Tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce by Nigel Farndale
Nature Cure by Richard Mabey
Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters
Matisse The Master by Hilary Spurling


Legion by David Harsent
Cold Calls by Christopher Logue
Lucky Day by Richard Price
Marabou by Jane Yeh

(via tse Tung)

National Book Awards Finalists

Holy shit! Vollmann gets nominated, as does Christopher Sorrentino. We got us some surprises this year for that National Book Awards. Here’s the full list:

E.L. Doctorow, The March (Random House)
Mary Gaitskill, Veronica (Pantheon)
Christopher Sorrentino, Trance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Renè Steinke, Holy Skirts (William Morrow)
William T. Vollmann, Europe Central (Viking)

Alan Burdick, Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Leo Damrosch, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius (Houghton Mifflin)
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (Alfred A. Knopf)
Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers (Times Books)
Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (Houghton Mifflin)

John Ashbery, Where Shall I Wander (Ecco)
Frank Bidart, Star Dust: Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Brendan Galvin, Habitat: New and Selected Poems, 1965-2005
(Louisiana State University Press)
W.S. Merwin, Migration: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press)
Vern Rutsala, The Moment’s Equation (Ashland Poetry Press)

Jeanne Birdsall, The Penderwicks (Alfred A. Knopf)
Adele Griffin, Where I Want to Be (Putnam)
Chris Lynch, Inexcusable (Atheneum)
Walter Dean Myers, Autobiography of My Dead Brother (HarperTempest)
Deborah Wiles, Each Little Bird That Sings (Harcourt)

I Am Knut!

[Translated from the Swedish by an anonymous reader. Culled from remarks given at a press conference this week.]

I am Knut Ahnlund and you’re not. I pity you for not being me. You don’t know what it’s like having to wade through books, turning every Nobel committee meeting into a fistfight. The Americans think that when someone spits in their face or slaps some puny little man like Dale Peck that it’s some sort of literary brawl, that it’s the subject of an important debate. But here in Sweden, we argue over literature and draw blood! Have you dislocated a shoulder because you cared that much about a book? I have. Several times. That’s integrity, dammit! And don’t even consider it an accident that I haven’t smiled for decades.

I am Knut! Witness the golden halo above my head and the tension in my stride. I haven’t paid for a breakfast in years and I eschew jellybeans and walks on the beach. I know pornography when I see it and I can tell you quite adamantly that Elfriede Jelinek is a shameless hussy. When these parvenus unleash the next Nobel laureate, you will know that I, Knut, will be there, maligning the disgraceful winner at every opportunity!

I am Knut! And I know what is grand for the human race. They may force me to return to my chair. They may tell me that this Nobel stuff is something I can’t get out of. But I’ll be the one biting without warning into your calf, ensuring that I draw the appropriate amount of blood with my bicuspids. Do not mess wth me or mock my name! For I control the hidden levers and still have considerable influence!

You will never find me disgracing the weekly book review pages. You will find me instead hunkered over an obscure book. I do not read these popular darlings. I do not even consider you part of my universe. For you are not Knut! Only I am! And if you would like to deify me, you know where to send the elegies and the checks.

National Book Awards Finalists

As a reader recently noted, there are now so many major awards being announced that it is often difficult to keep track. Tomorrow at 2:00 PM EST, this year’s National Book Award finalists will be announced. If we had to hazard a guess, we believe Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Drum will be one of the finalists. Of course, the truly distressing part of tomorrow’s nominations is that they will be announced by John Grisham. Which is a bit like inviting someone as crass and as obnoxious as Gilbert Gottfried to be the keynote speaker at an Evelyn Waugh conference.


  • Frances Dinkelspiel covers the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.
  • This week, in the City, it’s Litquake. We’ll be crawling ourselves this Saturday, in more ways than one.
  • Word on the street is that the long-delayed Nobel Literature Prize will finally be announced this Thursday. Apparently, one of the Swedish intellectuals lost a few meatballs along the way. Knut Ahnlund gave notice that he was quitting in disgust over last year’s winner, Elfriede Jelinek. Ahnlund said that Jelinek’s work was “whinging, unenjoyable, violent pornography.” Well, that’s all very fine, Knut. But why wait a year to pull out? There’s still the risk of impregnating the proceedings with spurious seed. There’s been some speculation that Orhan Pamuk might be this year’s Nobel winner and that Ahnlund’s resignation has something to do with this year’s choice. But if my experience with self-important people serves as any guide, I’m guessing that Ahnlund wanted to sabotage this year’s proceedings by raising a stink and that the real winner will be someone completely unexpected. Let us hope that it’s as edgy a choice as Jelinek.
  • And speaking of awards, I’m not sure what to make of the Blooker. The Blooker hopes to award books that are based on blogs. But how many “blooks” are there? Certainly not enough to create a longlist. Further, are any of these really readable, much less enduring? More importantly, does Wil Wheaton really need another silly trinket?
  • Another day, another Dave E—- profile. His latest cause? Granting teachers more pay. While he’s at it, he may want to champion offering his volunteers some recompense. He’s also getting the little tykes to read every periodical in America, presumably to keep tabs on any naysayers. Child slave labor too? Why, in a parallel universe, Dave might very well be the literary equivalent of Phil Knight!
  • Four-Eyed Bitch wants to know why literary readings are so dull.
  • A new Internet radio station devoted to poetry has been launched by Brian Douthit.
  • Also worth looking into: Circadian Poems, a poetry blog.
  • Can pop culture be tracked in the 21st Century in book form? Encyclopedia of Pop Culture authors Michael and Jane Stern (among others) say no.
  • Literary critic Wayne C. Booth, author of The Rhetoric of Fiction, has passed on.

[UPDATE: The Complete Review has the full story on Knut “I Like My Literature Non-Pornographic” Ahnlund. Apparently, he’s not even a bona-fide Nobel judge and, whether he likes it or not, Ol’ Knut Basket Case won’t get his much vaunted reprieve until he meets his maker.]

The Ultimate Development in the Frey-Eggers “Best Writer of My Generation” Fiasco

Just when you thought that Oprah had confined herself to dead writers and the “Summer of Faulkner,” Oprah recently announced a return to living writers. Her first new book along these lines is actually quite interesting: James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. I must confess that I’m highly amused at the idea of suburbanites in upstate New York and Orange County reading Frey’s gritty memoir. But if this represents the timbre of Oprah’s future offerings, then Return of the Reluctant strongly endorses the Oprah Book Club revival with the following proviso: No more Wally Lamb! Let’s see the Oprah Book Club dig up the kind of books that will provide a much needed jolt for soccer moms.

The Moral of the Story: If You Haven’t Changed Your First Name to “Jonathan” by Now, You Should Consider It

A hearty congratulations to Jonathan Lethem, who won a MacArthur Genius Grant this year. Lethem, beyond being a standout correspondent, is also an adventurous stylist and one of the few novelists working today who has written successfully across multiple genres. If you haven’t yet read the gritty The Fortress of Solitude or his futuristic take on Chandler, Gun, with Occasional Music, get thee to a bookstore and sup.

[UPDATE: Matt Cheney argues that while Lethem is deserving, “this choice continues the unfortunate trend of the MacArthur award often going to writers who have already found a lot of success.”]

Booker Shortlist

The Man Booker Shortlist has been announced:

  • John Banville, The Sea (Someone’s going to be very happy.)
  • Julian Barnes, Arthur & George (Julian Barnes: Comeback Kid?)
  • Sebastian Barry, A Long Long Way
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
  • Ali Smith, The Accidental
  • Zadie Smith, On Beauty

If there’s any lesson to be learned here, if you’re a British novelist who wants to win the Man Booker, change your last name to Smith.

Booker: The Real Authorities

While the BBC reduces the Booker Prize to stunt reading (“I push away comics, Doctor Who, Playstation, television, DVDs and the internet. [sic] All of a sudden this does not seem such a good idea.” Oh, we weep at this young man’s sacrifice.), the real authority, MOTEV, weighs in over at Mark’s. Among some of the more shocking revelations: an official stance on Zadie Smith’s qualifiations and a forthcoming handicap of the awards.

Booker Longlist Announced

The longlist has been announced:

Tash Aw, The Harmony Silk Factory
John Banville, The Sea (Someone‘s going to be really happy.)
Julian Barnes, Arthur & George
Sebastian Barry, A Long, Long Way
J.M. Coetzee, Slow Man
Rachel Cusk, In the Fold
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
Dan Jacobson, All for Love
Marina Lewycka, A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian
Hilary Mantel, Beyond Black
Ian McEwan, Saturday
James Meek, The People’s Act of Love
Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown
Ali Smith, The Accidental
Zadie Smith, On Beauty
Harry Thompson, This Thing of Darkness
William Wall, This is the Country

The “I’ve Got Tedious Meetings But Here’s a Quick” Roundup

Hugo Award Winners Announced

This year’s Hugo Awards Winners are up. Here are the literary-related winners:

Best Novel: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (*sigh*)
Best Novella: “The Concrete Jungle” by Charles Stross
Best Novelette: “The Faery Handbag” by Kelly Link (Hurray!)
Best Short Story: “Travels with My Cats” by Mike Resnick
Best Related Book: The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, Edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn
Best Professional Editor: Ellen Datlow
Best Professional Artist: Jim Burns
Best Semiprozine: Ansible
Best Fanzine: Plokta
Best Fan Writer: David Langford
Best Fan Artist: Sue Mason
Best Web Site: SciFiction
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo Award): Elizabeth Bear
Special Interaction Committee Award (not a Hugo Award): David Pringle

The “We Were Too Sluggish From Tuesday Night’s Festivities” Roundup

  • Robert “Two Sheds” Birnbaum is at it again. This time, he talks with Camille Paglia. The real question here is whether Camille was ever confused for a pirate incarnation of Princess Leia.
  • The Tireless Dan Wickett is now talking with publicists as part of his latest panel series. We suspect that Mr. Wickett will be interviewing some of the people in the warehouse before the year is up.
  • We could honestly care less about the Quills Awards, largely because Nick Hornby and Sue Monk Kidd should not be encouraged any further. But if you care, the nonsense can be found here.
  • A new symposium will compare Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics with Walt Whitman and Samuel Beckett.
  • Apparently, The Almond: The Sexual Awakening of a Muslim Woman is, according to the Daily Star, “no more original than that of the film 9 1/2 Weeks, without the soundtrack to keep it going.”
  • Yo, Book Babes, it’s Epileptic, not Epilepsy.
  • A sketch of Ted Hughes drawn by Sylvia Plath is up for auction this fall.


  • Because one can never cover too many awards, I note that Orhan Pamuk has won the 2005 Book Trade Peace Prize. The prize is the most coveted literary award in Germany.
  • Alan Riding points to a quiet controversy that has been unearthed regarding women’s writing prizes (and the Orange Prize in particular). Specifically, novelist Anne Fine is quoted, “I do think the Orange Prize has created a division, an artificial barrier where there was only an awful inequality.” Perhaps the answer is much simpler. Could it be because Fine has never been longlisted for the Orange Prize?
  • Super Size Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock is entering the book industry. The first book is Don’t Eat This Book. The second one will be Slightly Smarter Though Still Stupid White Men.
  • After years of relying on numbers cobbled together from disparate sources for our neighbor up north, publishers can now rejoice. BookNet Canada has introduced a new centralized sales-tracking system. This makes Canada the last English-speaking nation to do this. But the Globe and Mail‘s Kate Taylor is mourning: “At its most useful, it will let publishers stop guessing how many books they have really sold; at its most dangerous, it will draw them yet further into the pointless game of second-guessing their customers.”
  • In Waynesville, MO, as many as 20,000 books from Waynesville school libraries are going straight to the dumpster. This remarkable idea comes to us from the mind of Superintendent Ed Musgrove, who is inflexible to donations because “it would cost more for us to pack them up and donate them than to destroy them.” It seems that despite the fact that other members and local residents expressed concern over this small-town homage to the barbarians who destroyed the Great Library of Alexandria, Musgrove stayed firm, revealing that the main factors being employed to remove the books are the copyright date and the subject. If you’d like to let Musgrove know how you feel about this, here’s his contact information.
  • One amusing thing that’s come out of the ballyhoo concerning Edward Klein’s expose, The Truth About Hilary, is, as the BBC has reported, the listings over what other books the customers have bought. Currently leading the list is John E. O’Neill’s Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry. Craig Shirley and Dick Morris are concerned that Klein’s smear approach will make Hilary Clinton a more sympathetic person and thus a more viable presidential candidate for 2008. Meanwhile, Klein himself keeps flip-flopping with his source (Or is it none or more than one? One never knows with this guy.) that claims that Bill Clinton raped Hilary to conceive Chelsea. [UPDATE: Ron Hogan has additional information about Klein, jumping off from this Publishers Weekly article.]

Insomnia-Charged Roundup

  • Radio host Paul Kennedy is trying to win Leonard Cohen a Nobel Prize. “He’s different from a celebrity; he’s almost God,” says Kennedy. You can make the same claim about mescaline, but you’d never nominate a drug for a distinguished honor.
  • It certainly isn’t news that laughter is good for you, but I didn’t realize that Anthony Trollope died laughing. Apparently, it was F. Anstey’s Vice Versa which was the culprit and has Orwell’s admiration.
  • Ayelet Waldman describes her day.
  • If Tom Wolfe’s slithering wasn’t enough, Natalie Krinsky’s new book, Chloe Does Yale, hopes to steam up the Ivy League. A telltale excerpt (“Every time I move, the bikini bottoms wedge themselves a little higher, and I am stuck trying to extract them from their chosen crevice.”) suggests that this novel has a lock on this year’s Bad Sex Award.
  • It’s the 200th anniversary of Victor Hugo’s birth. The Suntory Museum Tempozoan in Osaka has an exposition lined up.
  • My heart bleeds for the wealthy Irish artists soon to lose their tax-free status. Particularly when they include such dubious figures as Def Leppard. “Women to the left, women to the right, there to entertain and take you thru the night.” Yup, today’s answer to “No Second Troy” right there.

Hugo Nominations

Gwenda beat me to it (for obvious reasons), but the Hugo Nominations are up. A certain Christopher Rowe was nominated. If there’s a lesson to be learned here, put the word “iron” in your title if you hope to get nominated for an award.


The Algebraist, Iain M. Banks (Orbit)
Iron Council, China Mi鶩lle (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
Iron Sunrise, Charles Stross (Ace)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)
River of Gods, Ian McDonald (Simon & Schuster UK)


“The Concrete Jungle”, Charles Stross (The Atrocity Archives, Golden Gryphon Press)
“Elector”, Charles Stross (Asimov’s Sep 2004)
“Sergeant Chip”, Bradley Denton (F&SF Sep 2004)
“Time Ablaze”, Michael A. Burstein (Analog Jun 2004)
“Winterfair Gifts”, Lois McMaster Bujold (Irresistible Forces, NAL)


Biographical Notes to ?A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes? by Benjamin Rosenbaum”, Benjamin Rosenbaum (All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, Wheatland Press)
“The Clapping Hands of God”, Michael F. Flynn (Analog Jul/Aug 2004)
“The Faery Handbag”, Kelly Link (The Faery Reel, Viking)
“The People of Sand and Slag”, Paolo Bacigalupi (F&SF Feb 2004)
“The Voluntary State”, Christopher Rowe (Sci Fiction 5 May 2004)


“The Best Christmas Ever”, James Patrick Kelly (Sci Fiction 26 May 2004)
“Decisions”, Michael A. Burstein (Analog Jan/Feb 2004)
“A Princess of Earth”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Dec 2004)
“Shed Skin”, Robert J. Sawyer (Analog Jan/Feb 2004)
“Travels with My Cats”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Feb 2004)


Elizabeth Bear (second year of eligibility)
K. J. Bishop (second year of eligibility)
David Moles (second year of eligibility)
Chris Roberson (second year of eligibility)
Steph Swainston (first year of eligibility)

The Oscar Pool

If you want to get into dichotimies, I suspect that there are computer mechanics and car mechanics. There are people who understand and appreciate comics and there are people who don’t. And when it comes to yearly televised fluff (that is, if we have to choose one), there are Oscar people and there are Super Bowl people. (And if you haven’t guessed already, I’m one of the former.)

Some folks in the know say that Chris Rock’s career is on the line. And they may be right. David Letterman was about as close as mainstream acceptance got to quirky and not even he could cut the mustard. And isn’t this the kind of sacrifice that fluff is all about? If you’re a running back who blows a reception in the Super Bowl, sure, the fans are going to kick your ass for a month or so and there’s a good chance you’re going to get traded. But if it’s the Oscars, not only can you not come back (unless, like Billy Crystal, your win-loss record is good), but you could end up thrown into coach. (Case in point: It may have been a fait accompli, but was it Oscar that fueled Whoopi’s sad slide into the mediocre world of Hollywood Squares?)

But if you really want to know what keeps me coming, it’s the gambling pools. I don’t bet on football anymore, but with Oscar bets, at least you can create some modest illusion that you’re throwing around money for something quasi-cultural.

With this in mind, I unveil my Oscar predictions. This is not a measure of who should win, but rather who will win. I’ve been wrong before, but let it not be said that I didn’t have flaunt around a crystal ball every now and then.


Last year was Eastwood’s year. And Million Dollar Baby has had this weird tendency to alienate every female film geek I’ve talked with. Sideways is too character-based to win. Which leaves Finding Neverland, Ray and The Aviator vying for pure spectacle. And since The Aviator has planes, pathos and explosions (always a firm bet with Academy voters) and this is the second of the Harvey-Marty pairup pictures, my guess is that Marty will win after being denied so many years.

BEST DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese

I’m fairly confident this one’s in the bag. But if Taylor Hackford wins, then the universe is indeed cruel and without integrity.

BEST ACTOR: Jamie Foxx

He may have extended range, but they won’t give it to Leo. Million Dollar Baby was more about Swank than Eastwood. And Depp needs one more nomination before they give him a Sean Penn. Which leaves Jamie Foxx and Don Cheadle. Foxx will win for Ray because the Academy likes a depressing role, though up to a point.


This one’s tough to call. But I don’t think the Academy has it in them to give Foxx two Oscars the same year. Nor do I believe that Alan Alda pulls his weight in with the geriatric vote as much as he used to. (And, besides, his performance was too spastic.) Freeman’s role in Million Dollar Baby was a far cry from Street Smart and, as much as I like Freeman, let’s face the facts that it was pretty much the same performance he’s been giving us since The Shawhsank Redemption. Clive Owen is only a recent find. But Church has the Paul Giamatti guilt factor going for him, which will have the irony of making Giamatti feel worse for being snubbed if Church wins. Plus, there’s always at least one supporting winner that turns out weird.

BEST ACTRESS: Hilary Swank

Moreno and Staunton have no chance. Nobody remembers Being Julia. Eternal Sunshine is too abstract for the major Oscar nominations. But Hilary Swank has the Tom Hanks thing going. Everybody likes her. Plus, there’s the whole getting-in-shape-for-the-role thing. Plus, she’s a solid actor being molded by Eastwood.


Never mind that Madsen, Linney and Okonedo all deserve the award. Blanchett will win by way of giving the crowd-pleasing performance. And Portman will learn the hard way that taking off her clothes may win points with Internet downloaders, but doesn’t factor in at all with the Academy.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Because only in the writing categories does originality shine.


Because Daddy always said, “Runner up, son, is Best Screenplay.”

Actually, It’s Unfair to Let Susanna Clarke Unleash a Longass Novel Without Hard-Hearted Editors

Mark says, “Perhaps it?s unfair to pit 19th-century magicians against Jewish exiles from Nazi Germany,” and selects Heir to the Glimmering World in the next installment of the TMN Tournament of Books. Mark’s being too kind when he calls Jonathan Strange a “Saturday matinee.” It is interminable cotton candy and deserves a through ass-kicking by the likes of Ozick before it’s too late.

Betting on the Tournament of Books

The Morning News Tournament of Books is alive and kicking. The truly strangest choice, however, was Danny Gregory’s endorsement of I Am Charlotte Simmons over Wake Up, Sir! “Slither slither” over a playful Wodehouse homage?

Well, nobody said this was perfect.

But since people seem to be betting on the results and we’ve recently been applying “thin-slicing” to nearly every aspect of our lives (to say nothing of our ignoble yet inconclusive efforts to get the inside dirt from the honorably recalcitant Mark Sarvas), if we were betting men, we expect Susanna Clarke to get deservedly flogged. We also believe that Jessa Crispin will say no to Cloud Atlas. Because heaven forfend that a damn fine novel get widespread recognition. We also predict that Maud will side with The Plot Against America.

So if our educated guesses make you a small fortune, you know where to send the 10%. And that concludes our Meyer Lansky moment of the year.

The Romance of Reading Glasses

It’s not enough for Andrea Levy to win the Orange and the Whitbread. She’s just been nominated for a third award: the Romantic Novel of the Year Award.

Normally, we wouldn’t have any problems with this. We’ve long been awaiting Small Island‘s inevitable paperback version of a long-haired hunk mounting some bodice-ripped brunette against a conflagrating background — if only to have the hopeless Harlequin crowd accidentally reading a moving tale of two couples on an island.

The chief problem here is that the prize is sponsored by FosterGrant Reading Glasses. And while our librarian fetish is well documented, we have to point out that FosterGrant frames aren’t exactly daring or, for that matter, romantic.

And they damn well should be.

One would think that after centuries of eyewear technology, FosterGrant would have stumbled upon the ultimate solution — frames that provide practical vision for the far-sighted while considering the requirements of lascivious literary types.

Expansion of eyewear translates into expanding ideas of romance. And for far-sighted novelists, we’re talking a sharp dropoff in “slither slither” Wolfe-style bad sex and a veritable rise in “romantic novels.” So what of it, FosterGrant? Where are the reading glasses I can wear for the dominatrix? If we can’t be indecent on television, then we can surely be naughty in literature.

Whitbread Winners

The Whitbreads go to:

Novel Award: Andrea Levy, Small Island (She also won the Orange Prize.)
First Novel Award: Susan Fletcher, Eve Green
Biography: John Guy, My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of the Scots
Poetry: Michael Symmons Roberts, Corpus
Children’s Book: Geraldine McCaughrean, Not the End of the World

Happy New Year

Well, that’s it for us. Apologies for the political drivel, but we had to get in our yearly quota before midnight. Regularly literary coverage will continue when we pull ourselves off the floor, determine how we lost our boxers, come to terms with the arsenal of alcohol in the kitchen, check our credit card statements, cry, politely escort people out of our home, and try to begin living up to our barely realistic New Year’s resolutions.

If you plan to drink, please don’t drive. Be sure to drink lots of water. (And tomorrow morning will go down better with a bloody Mary.) If you’re not drunk, you probably are. If you don’t have a gym membership, you’ll probably have one next week.

Also, 2004 was better than you remember it. And 2005 is going to kick some serious ass for you, but only if you make it that way. Now get out there and kiss somebody.


Dr. Mabuse