A few people have criticized yesterday’s post, pointing out that the NBCC fiction nominees are about celebrating “the best” or “the most noteworthy books of the year,” with the idea that it doesn’t matter if an author has received accolades or not.
This is a fair point, but what is “the best” about exactly? Since we know that the NBCC created a committee and spent an entire day settling upon these mostly lackluster candidates, one must ask whether “the best” are genuinely being sought through the NBCC’s current consensus approach. Did the NBCC Board Members even talk about a book like Scarlett Thomas’s The End of Mr. Y or was it simply not in its collective radar because one of the judges doesn’t read books set in a dimensional universe? Was this really a matter of delving deep for “the best” or settling upon a group of ten pretty good books that everyone had already read?
Is not celebrating literature the act of submerging one’s self across a broad spectrum, particularly areas that run counter to one’s interests?
Finding “the best,” in my view, means plunging into books in direct conflict with one’s sensibilities, while simultaneously embracing those established (and deserved) voices that speak to the collective timbre. It can be done. It was done with the National Book Awards, and one need look no further than this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist to find another eclectic array. The list includes a genre staple like M. John Harrison, while recognizing a left-field candidate like Lydia Millet’s Oh Pure and Radiant Heart.