Saturday, August 29, 2015

Literary Award Complaints

Literary prizes sometimes seem to function like parents whose approval we crave as well as spurn. The complaints are as common as they are contradictory: Prizes are awarded to tepid, undemanding best sellers everyone reads; prizes are awarded to obscure, abstruse books no one reads. They are awarded to the right authors, but for the wrong work (Hemingway for "The Old Man and the Sea," Faulkner for "A Fable"). They are awarded to the wrong authors for the wrong work (Margaret Mitchell for "Gone With the Wind"). They are withheld from the right authors for the right work (Gravity's Rainbow," by Thomas Pynchon, won jury approval for the Pulitzer Price in 1974 but was overruled by a board that deemed the novel "turgid," and "obscene"). Sometimes the grousing has the whiff of sour grapes. "Prize X has never been awarded to Philip Roth." Prize Y has never been awarded to me."

Jennifer Szalai

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