Pretzel Logic

25 Apr


As those of you who pay attention to such things are aware, the earth is stilling spinning on its original axis and the seas have not turned to sand and the American presidential gong show is still trudging inexorably toward an unsatisfying conclusion (if not resolution). Massive handwringing and wailing and exhortations to various deities among the allegedly vanishing population of readers of literary fiction have not caused the revanchist Pulitzer apparachiks to recant their decision to not (or not to) award a fiction prize.

A number of true believers are announcing that this lapse (failure? error? boo boo?) is an affront to American fiction (an entity suddenly given a strange ontological status)`and an onerous deprivation visited on readers.
Ann Patchett, a fine novelist and a recently anointed bookseller in her hometown of Nashville where Ms Patchett has set her unannounced ambition to saving (at least the idea of) the retail (independent) American bookstore was sufficiently exercised about the Pulitzer melodrama that she toiled to pen a piece for the New York Times—where she opines that we (huh!)are all losers without a Pulitzer for fiction:

Let me underscore the obvious here: Reading fiction is important. It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings. Following complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking, and staying within the world of a novel gives us the ability to be quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps.

Unfortunately, the world of literature lacks the scandal, hype and pretty dresses that draw people to the Academy Awards, which, by the way, is not an institution devoted to choosing the best movie every year as much as it is an institution designed to get people excited about going to the movies. The Pulitzer Prize is our best chance as writers and readers and booksellers to celebrate fiction. This was the year we all lost.


This is too silly to subject to exegesis.And like many examples of pretzel logic there is a head ache inducing trigger. Now the book business, one is aware, gains revenue from these awards as do movies and sports from their various contests. However, this is in no way to be confused with what readers and fans have at stake.

Christopher Lehman has the mental fortitude to get his head around Ms Patchett’s aria. He points out:

It’s easy to miss, amid Ms. Patchet’s vehemence, the patent condescension that prize-dependent marketing visits upon American readers. In her distinctly arid account of readerly engagement, news of a prestigious laurel is what’s needed to generate “the buzz,” as she puts it, “that is so often lacking.” But the question is far better turned on its head: If an entire industry must rely on aloof prize boards to gin up sustained interest, then the trouble would seem to be the industry itself, rather than the prize boards or the consumers.

And he adds a coup de grace:

Funnily enough, the brunt of Ms. Patchet’s indictment was being disproved even as it was published: Thanks to the coverage surrounding the non-awarding of the 2012 Pulitzer, sales of all three finalists were spiking; one of those titles, Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, had even sold out in hardcover on Amazon.


If any of you readers feel bereft and at sea because there was no fiction award please to let me know—its hard for me to accept that there is even one case of such an affliction.

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One Response to “Pretzel Logic”

  1. George Kelley April 26, 2012 at 1:45 am #

    Awards and prizes are just marketing techniques. Mozart never won a prize. Positerity is the final judge of a work of art.

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