Posted October 22, 2007on:
Here’s a few links to keep you busy while I rustle up another Paradise Lost post.
Dorothy pointed me to a Guardian article in which a Booker judge always writes about the judging process. I cannot overemphasize my horror at what experienced, sophisticated, educated, well-learned readers actually considered as a judging model.
It may seem banal to relate the story of these stages, much of which will be familiar to seasoned Booker observers. I want to stress that everything was always up for grabs – right to the end. Everything was contingent. Even the method by which the books were to be assessed. A few days before the shortlist meeting we had gathered in a restaurant in London’s Covent Garden, to discuss this issue. Some judges wanted to apply comparative principles across the range of books; others wanted to voice their subjective preferences novel by novel.
The comparative principles, out of which it might be hoped measures of objectivity could be drawn, were not very sophisticated. It was just a simple taxonomy including the following: plot and structure; theme; language, tone and style; characterisation; impact and readability. But even these basic foundations to judging a novel could not be adequately established.
I know they didn’t use it, thank goodness, but I’m not sure how on earth it could have occurred to any of them as a good idea at the time. That it could have even been suggested. It’s a bloody literary prize for adults not an ‘O’ level exam. Aren’t you supposed to be looking for exciting, bowl me over, when has this been done before books? How can you even bring that attitude in the first place when you have to consult your Flesch-Kincaide Readability manual? If I were at that table I think I would have grabbed my coffee and run away in horror. I assume that if Mulligan Stew by Sorrentino could qualify, and they read maybe one or three pages, they would have stabbed it with a Morgul Blade of mediocrity. (I’m re-reading The Lord of the Rings.)
American readers, were you aware of middle-grade fiction as a distinct “genre” from children’s literature and young adult? Besides reading levels maybe. Niall of Torque Control posted last week about the reactions to a review by Paul Kincaide: he is accused of not knowing the audience of the book, nor being familiar with the area of “middle-grade” fiction because he’s British, “middle-grade” being an American grade system. Keep in mind that the reviewer asserts that he reads his YA and knows his stuff but, well, YA isn’t “middle-grade” so it doesn’t count, he’s missing context. All of which sounds like a bunch of bullshit to me, but what do I know? The line between children’s literature and young adult is blurry enough as it is, and now we’re being told that reading enough of the latter isn’t enough to properly review books aimed at kids aged 8-12 ( I guess)? If anyone’s willing to let me know how this is at all comparable to a realist fan tackling a fantasy book let me have it in comments.
One thing Kimmelman could have pointed out is that the French name for the center is: Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration, which, in a very literal translation, means simply “National City of the History of Immigration,” and so the word cité is meant to suggest republican notions of unity, and of a single, indivisible, unhyphenated French identity. But cité is also the colloquial word in French for the suburbs around the big cities where immigrants live. This is a bit like building a museum for Mexican-Americans and calling it the “barrio museum.” And the worst part of it is: I don’t even think French officials realize the ambiguity.
Then you may partake in more of Western Europe’s self-delusion here.
And this should bring back a smile on your face. When I first read it took me a while to realise what they were referring to. What? “Alternative literature?” I thought to myself. Like Coldplay and top 40 stations or–oh, like gay lit? But why should Amazon cordon them off that way, what about all the other minor–OOOOH, you mean indie writers and stuff. Pass. (What can I say, I’m slow? I first saw this announcement on a blog of indeterminate nature, so I saw no immediate “underground” writerly clues.)
Edit: I’m not sure what kind of mood I’m in today but I discovered that the acclaimed New York Review of Books reviewed the latest Alice Sebold book in the comments of Dan Green’s aggrieved post on newspaper book pages, and am still laughing 3 minutes later.