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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Thursday, February 22, 2007 12:50 pm
Don’t like literary awards? Start your own!
Posted by: Keir Graff

If you’re attracted to the sexiness of book awards despite their arbitrariness and stupidity, you may wish to participate in The Morning News2007 Tournament of Books. The mission statement, according to ToB chairman Kevin Guilfoile:

Someone, possibly me, once said that all decent ideas are born from too much wine, and so it was with the Tournament of Books. Exchanging emails with the TMN editors after a few glasses of Argentinean Malbec, we each confessed that we’re attracted to the sexiness of book awards despite the fact that book awards are also arbitrary and stupid. In this way the National Book Award is (in a joke that was neither as tasteless nor on the nose as it was when I wrote it two weeks ago) much more like Anna Nicole Smith than it is like Anna Deavere Smith.

The idea that any small group of people, no matter how intelligent, could emerge from a locked room to declare one book as the year’s finest is absurd. People like to say that awards foster discussion about contemporary literature, and that’s true. But if that is the real purpose, than let’s have a real discussion. Let’s make the judging entirely transparent. Let’s admit that the nominees were selected arbitrarily (one was originally published in 1988, though rereleased in 2006) and that we chose a number of books as finalists before any of us had even read them. Let’s lay bare any biases the judges might have. Let’s hear specifically why this judge preferred this book over that one. Let’s seed all 16 finalists in an NCAA-basketball type bracket and pit them against one another in a Battle Royale of Literary Excellence!

I’m with Guilfoile: book awards are arbitrary and imperfect but I like them anyway because I like talking about books. I’ve already cast my vote, for the arbitrarily decided Booklist Top of the List winner, The Road.



3 Responses to “Don’t like literary awards? Start your own!”
  1. maggie Says:

    How about “Maggie’s Mighty Mississippi Awards” where Richard Ford would be the first honoree. (I didn’t want to rub your nose in the Colt thing, but “The Road” would have no pull in MY awards.) :D

  2. Keir Says:

    Well, fine. I’m starting “Keir’s Windy City Awards.” But because even I am beginning to suspect that Cormac McCarthy has been honored enough for his masterpiece, I will name the Chicago Bears as the first winners. Because I want to do something nice for them, and because their Super Bowl playbook rose to the level of Greek tragedy.

  3. maggie Says:


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