Sunday, January 24, 2010

NBCC Shortlist Is No Reader’s Choice

The finalists for the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced Saturday night in New York. Once again, the titles that made NBCC’s final cut seem to comprise a list more intended to make a small group of people feel erudite rather than making a large group feel passionate about books and reading.

On the other hand, these are not the people’s choice awards. But then, neither is the National Book Award. So where is the place where the passion of readers and the choices of critics can come together? And isn’t it time that the two become somewhat reflective of each other?

According to the NBCC’s Web site, the organization was “founded in 1974 at the Algonquin, is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization consisting of some 600 active book reviewers who are interested in honoring quality writing and communicating with one another about common concerns.”

Some people feel that conversations about books are dwindling and, certainly, the inches offered to book reviews in newspapers are shrinking. What can we do -- what can all of us do -- to make discussions about books more vibrant and more relevant to an audience that seems to not be entirely convinced? I’m not sure of the answer, but I know that it isn’t esoterica.

Here are the finalists in the fiction category:
Bonnie Jo Campbell, American Salvage (Wayne State University Press)
Marlon James, The Book of Night Women (Riverhead)
Michelle Huneven, Blame (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (Holt)
Jayne Anne Phillips, Lark and Termite (Knopf)
Others shortlists are here.



Anonymous Barbara Friend Ish said...

I started to leave a comment, but it turned into an entire blog post. In brief: the conversations and collaborations you desire are already taking place--in the blogosphere and on social-reading sites. You can read the long-winded version here:

Monday, January 25, 2010 at 3:35:00 PM PST  
Blogger skrlo said...

It's nice to see that these conversations are still happening but how accessible they are to the general - and passive - public. One advantage of press coverage in the mass media is people who may not otherwise be exposed to literary articles/reviews will be exposed to them.

By limiting generic discussion to a few sources such as the NY Times and the Amazon's of the world, everyone may lose. The newspapers lose because people stop looking to them as a source of broad information, the public loses because it receives limited and market-driven reviews of books, the publishers lose because they have to appeal to a few major information sources and/or highly segmented markets, and authors lose because the exposure of their work is greatly limited.

I'm not saying that I don't think blogospheres and social-reading sites shouldn't exist, but I don't think they're an equal substitute for mass media.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 11:06:00 AM PST  

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