Perhaps I could abide the persistent use of the word ‘best’ if it had not become degraded by association with a wide stripe of vulgar and crass commercial valences. You know, many city and regional magazine have yearly issues called the Best of Podunk or Best of East St. Louis and the insipid crap usually contained therein make varieties of fecal matter seem benign. And when it comes to literary beauty contests and/ or the feeble efforts occasionally expended by,uh, such as the New York Times to conjure a “Best of” list, I take my cue from British literary bad boy, Will Self who opined with a rhetorical question, “How do you win at literature?”
Thus the whole cycle of book awards and the self-congratulating rigamarole attendant on them, leaves me considering what worthy projects and matters are being ignored.On the one hand book titles and author’s names are for a news cycle or two bandied about which I suppose in today’s attention economy is an indeterminate benefit.On the other hand, the equilibrium of intelligent discourse seems to be made more fragile and evanescent.
Whats brings me to the consideration above is the latest, and I think last, in the circuit of major (whatever that means, in this regard) book beauty pageants, The National Book Critics Circle announcement of its 2010 finalists which included a healthy group of valuable books. The only title I was surprised to encounter was Darin Strauss’s riveting and thoughtful memoir Half Life (McSweeney’s) of his life after he killed a bicylist in an auto accident when he was preparing to go off to college.
And while I am on the subject, my colleagues at the Morning News reprise, for the 7th time their Tournament of Books which apparently has quite a following in the book business and some precincts of the critic community. Frankly, I don’t get how it works but when you consider the contemporary flora and fauna of which I am unaware (Snooki, Twitter, the Kondrashians) my ignorance is explicable.