The State of Literature
The chair of this year’s Man Booker Prize, and the editor of the Times Literary Supplement, does not like all these uninformed opinions about literature flitting about the Internet. Indeed, Sir Peter Stothard fears for the very state of serious literature and criticism.
“Eventually that will be to the detriment of literature. It will be bad for readers; as much as one would like to think that many bloggers opinions are as good as others. It just ain’t so,” Sir Peter Stothard told the Independent, we imagine over a proper tea service. “People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we’ll be worse off.”
Woe betide our republic of letters! The shadowy culture arbiters who serve on the Pulitzer Prize board have withheld their favor from the field of American novels published in 2011. Booksellers, writers and critics have been up in arms ever since news of the non-award broke in mid-April. In a cri de coeur published in the New York Times’s op-ed pages, novelist Ann Patchett—who also runs an independent bookstore in Nashville—decried the committee’s abstention as a cause for “indignation” and, indeed, “rage.”
“I can’t imagine there was ever a year when we were so in need of the excitement the [fiction Pulitzer] creates in readers,” Ms. Patchett wrote.
It’s easy to miss, amid Ms. Patchett’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.