Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book News: #Readathon & Booker Man Prize Controversy

I am planning to read as much as possible (even listening to audiobooks while I clean), but I'm not wholly participating in Dewey's 24-hour Read-a-thon. I have a birthday party to attend later today, for my favorite 10-year-old in the world (my soon-to-be stepson). Celebrating will encompass most of my afternoon, thus rendering a Read-a-thon entry useless. However, you should go on over to the Read-a-thon website and register. It's already begun, but readers always welcome new friends! More than 170 people have entered, and #readathon is trending on Twitter this morning!

It's not a Friday (my usual Book News day), but I needed to draw your attention to some news happening in the book world this week. Let's start with this article from The Christian Science Monitor on Monday, one day prior to the Man Booker Prize winner announcement. Detailed in the piece was the fact that some book world higher-ups were disgusted by what they called "the Booker prize 'now prioritiz[ing] a notion of 'readability' over artistic achievement.'" This isn't the first time the Prize has been contested hotly. In fact, the Man Booker Prize website even contains a list of controversies surrounding the Prize by year -- and almost every year is accounted for on said list.

This morning I read an article in the Toronto Star which asks the question: "What's wrong with a readable book?" Their answer -- and mine -- is, in short: nothing. Now, I do believe there might be public outcry if Nicholas Sparks was ever awarded the Man Booker Prize (which would never happen because American authors would have to be included for this to occur). I myself do not particularly enjoy Sparks' novels. Many, many people do. I will say the movies are usually pretty good romantic dramas. (I mean, who hates The Notebook? No one, that's who.) But I don't think anyone out there -- even the most loyal Sparks reader -- would claim that his books were literary accomplishments. They tell stories that people like.

This, however, is not the question. The question is (in my mind): should a book be considered great only  if it has no appeal whatsoever to the masses? Dare I say it? In my opinion, great books that are awarded prizes should have two primary factors: one, they should be extraordinarily well-written, and two, they should be readable. What purpose does a novel serve if it is largely unreadable? Are books not written in order to be read? (Perhaps I'm missing something if they are indeed not written for this purpose.) There is no prize (or there shouldn't be) for writing a book that no one enjoys. If unreadable, unenjoyable books are being written and given prizes, I call for a revamping of the standards.

I loathe and disdain literary snob-ism. As someone who has a degree in English: Language and Literature, I ran into literary snobs quite often in my college career. Let me tell you something: they are no smarter and no better than most of the general population. I watched as their literary criticism papers were handed back with less-than-perfect scores. I heard them discuss their scores on the ACT, then the GRE and other grad-level exams. Again, less-than-perfect. A deep devotion to Beowulf or Ulysses does not an intelligent person make. That is not to say there are no intelligent people who love reading difficult literature; of course there are. But in my opinion, readability wins every time. If it cannot be read and enjoyed, what exactly is the purpose of a book?

I tell my students that revising a paper by replacing simple words with thesaurus words in every sentence does not turn a mediocre paper into an excellent paper. It just makes a mediocre paper into a more-difficult-to-read paper. Similarly, writing a book whose only qualities are that it sounds literary and is difficult to read does not mean it should immediately win a prize. The ability to transform the mediocre into the excellent is a gift, in most cases. One which should be rewarded all the more for also being readable.

I have a long list of excellent (and readable) books to dive into this weekend. Right now I'm listening to Tess Gerritsen's The Silent Girl and reading Michael Connelly's upcoming Harry Bosch novel The Drop. I may pick up one of these books if I finish it today:

  • Michael Connelly's The Fifth Witness
  • Mark T. Mustian's The Gendarme
  • Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog
  • Chelsea Cain's The Night Season
  • Charles Frazier's Nightwoods
  • Chris Bohjalian's The Night Strangers

Which one do you think I should read next? I'm torn!

1 comment:

  1. The read-a-thon was a #fail for me, but I had fun anyway. I was gone for half the day so only read for 12 hours, if you can call it that. LOL

    No worries about the day was a total joke! It was my birthday and I had plans to leave the house at 11am so I could attend Lisa Alther's reading and then jump to the front of her signing line. Well, my husband plays cards on Friday nights and he did not come home in time for me to leave (long story and he was in the major doghouse!) at 11 so I ended up missing the reading. My mom came and said we should just go and take the boys so I could at least make the signing. So, we get downtown and I realize neither of us has cash so she had to drop me and my younger son off so I can run up to the signing. I bought the book and went to the workers and they got me to the front of the line. I was able to meet Lisa (which was lovely) and get the book signed and personalized to me with a happy birthday thrown in. What a keepsake! Regretfully, I didn't get to stick around long because there were no parking facilities that take credit cards so mom had to pick us back up, but I did meet up with Marla and Nikki, two book bloggers from Cookeville. We were talking about maybe doing a meet up after the first of the year, when the holidays are behind us. Down the road I was thinking it would be cool for a bunch of us to chip in on a lodge or cabin somewhere and have some kind of book retreat/read-a-thon one weekend. Wouldn't that be fun?!

    Hope all is well and that you have a great week. =O)



Related Posts with Thumbnails