The Frank O’Connor Award people have given the latest prize to Jhumpa Lahiri. But they haven’t even had the decency to serve up a shortlist. The jurors claim that Unaccustomed Earth was “so plainly the best book that they would jump straight from longlist to writer.” But what you may not know was that their secret goal was to enable Jhumpa Lahiri’s out-of-control ego. Never mind her $4 million, two-book deal. Having taken pivotal NEA money away from other writers who still have to work a full-time day job (and do indeed have children to support), Lahiri will not rest until she has taken every last dollar from every last award. She’s the Brenda Walsh of the literary world. And Darren Star has been trying to find the right television hook for years.
Tribune inside man Lee Abrams has expressed a few words about books sections, calling them “too scholarly” and in need of being “dramatically rethought.” While I disagree with the notion that a book on the “Phillippine Socialist Movement in the 1800s” (are Abrams and Zell even aware of the underlying reasons for the Spanish-American war?) can’t be interesting, I nevertheless agree that any 21st century books section should involve something fun, engaging, intelligent, and even a bit iconoclastic. It involves respecting the intelligence of readers (they are much smarter than you give them credit for; I’m looking in particular at you, Garner and Tanenhaus) and getting them excited about books, even if it means sometimes going a little over-the-top (although in a justifiable way). It involves being flexible to genre, debut fiction authors, books in translation, and crazy titles that nobody else would think of reviewing. Mark has an idea that goes much further. [UPDATE: Mark Athitakis also has some thoughts about this. As soon as my time clears up a bit, I plan to offer a sizable post later this week on additional problems plaguing book review sections.]
If by “Woody Allen for the new millennium,” you are referring to Allen’s woefully unfunny films of the past decade (for my money, the last funny Allen film was probably 2000’s Small Time Crooks and that was only because of Elaine May), then I suppose there’s a case to be made. But let us consider a more suitable comparison. At the age of 51, Sedaris has written the unfunny book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. At the age of 51, Woody Allen made Hannah and Her Sisters and Radio Days — inarguably two of his best late-period pictures. Apples and oranges, to say the least. (via Books, Inq.)