No Brownies for Dwight Garner Either!

In this week’s Inside the List, Dwight Garner remarks upon the Observer’s riff upon the NYTBR list and notes, “One sad and striking thing about this list of beautiful books is that only one, McEwan’s ‘Atonement,’ appeared on the Times best-seller list, in hardcover or soft.”

I sincerely hope this is simply an inept ironic statement on how literary works often don’t sell as well as bestsellers. But I have a sneaking suspicion that Garner has been having one too many drinks from the Tanenhaus Kooky Kool-Aid Kooler. The NYTBR contemporary fiction list was roundly mocked precisely because it was less about literary merit and more about extremely obvious literary titles that elitists, clearly out of touch with the habits of anyone under 50, would select. Indeed, why should sales have any bearing on literary merit at all? With this attitude, perhaps this explains why the NYTBR is often more of a hoary tabloid than an honorable publication.



  1. From the same paragraph:

    The winner, not unsurprisingly, was J. M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace”

    I love litotes as much as the next guy, but not unsurprisingly, I have no idea why someone would write tthat sentence.

  2. People just love Coetzee, and I find that to be a complete surprise. After reading Disgrace, I threw it aside and vowed never to read another one of his novels. All the Coetzee love, though, makes me wonder if I have no taste whatsoever.

    When I read The Observer article, I didn’t get the sense that they were mocking the NYT for the actual books on the list. Rather, their beef seemed to be with the quest for the Great American Novel, our literary equivalent of the Holy Grail. If it doesn’t exist and can’t be written, then what’s the point in trying to listify it?

  3. He obviously meant to comment (not even ironically: he’s being quite direct) on the disconnect between literary merit and commercial success. I think we can all more or less agree that good books ought to have more readers and that the Times list is a reasonable measure of readership and that, if only one of these “beautiful books” wound up on the list, that’s at least too bad, if not actually “sad and striking.” I don’t get what’s there to get bent out of shape about. I think you’re looking for any excuse to withhold brownies here.

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