When the nominees for the National Book Award were announced this week, I was embarrassed to note that I’d read not one of the fiction shortlist, not even Tea Obrecht’s widely praised Tiger’s Wife. I was pleased to see that small presses (Bellevue, University of North Carolina Press) were represented among the nominees, and I looked forward to the pleasant possibility–dim though it may be, given my to-read pile– of getting hold of these novels. Thus, it was with dismay that I read Laura Millers piece in Salon in which she accuses the National Book Award of being “irrelevant” on the grounds of its “esoteric” choices. Miller argues that the NBA should instead help the people “who can find time for only two or three new novels per year read something significant.”
While I don’t dispute her claim that most of the nation neither knows nor cares about publishing industry buzz, I would submit that the reading public—whether pointy-headed out-of-touch intellectuals or occasional book buyers in search of a good read–has little difficulty encountering the season’s Big Books. Geoffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, one of the novels she singles out for having been passed over, is everywhere. The same was doubly true of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (cover of Time Magazine, anyone?).
Miller might dispute the judges’ choices on the basis of merit (having read none of them, I can’t comment on their worthiness) but to be categorically dismissive of these selections, which she likens to the “literary equivalent of spinach,” seems not only unfair, but absurd. We all know that book promotion and review coverage are in short supply, so if the NBA sets out to cast a wider net than what the media serves up, how is that a bad thing?
What do you think?