One-Minute Book Reviews

May 31, 2012

Against the Term ‘Literary Fiction’ / Quote of the Day, John Updike

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:34 pm
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“I am dismayed by the recent rise of the term ‘literary fiction’ …” John Updike

By Janice Harayda

There’s a lot of competition for the title of the Worst Publishing Trend of the 21st century. Best sellers written at a third-grade level. Ebooks with no proofreading and bad formatting. Pink covers on novels by women when books of comparable quality by men don’t get bound in baby blue.

Then there’s a trend that, if less obvious, may be the worst of all — the increasing practice of labeling novels either “literary” or “commercial,” or high or low culture. The trend gained force about two decades ago as the largest bookstore chains were becoming more important. And it may exist in part because when you have thousands of feet of floor space to fill, you need an easy way to classify books.

But if the “literary” and “commercial” labels help big-box stores, they hurt others. The artificial divisions set up misleading expectations. All novels don’t fall neatly into one of two categories. The terms “literary” and “commercial” – if they are valid at all – aren’t absolutes. They are points on a continuum. Some “literary” novels sell millions of copies, and some “commercial” never find a following. And the terms often have little to do with the quality of a book.

Complaints about this taxonomy typically come from authors who rightly or wrongly see themselves as misclassified as “commercial” when they deserve better. So it’s refreshing that the late John Updike – as “literary” as they come – takes stand on the issue in his posthumous essay collection, Higher Gossip. Updike writes: “I am dismayed by the recent rise of the term ‘literary fiction,’ denoting a genre almost as rarefied and special and ‘curious’ in appeal, to contemporary Americans, as poetry.” His words a welcome reminder that no authors – even members of the publishing elite – benefit from capricious labeling.

You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button at right.

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

April 16, 2012

10 Famous Novels That Didn’t Win a Pulitzer Prize

Filed under: Book Awards,News,Newspapers,Pulitzer Prizes — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:32 am
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The Great Gatsby didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and neither did these modern classics

By Janice Harayda

Consider this if your favorite book doesn’t win one of the Pulitzer prizes that will be announced at 3 p.m. today: The judges for the 1930 prize looked at Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and gave the fiction award to … Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge. And those classics are hardly alone in having been snubbed. Some noteworthy losers and the novels that won the Pulitzer instead in the years listed:

1962
Loser: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Winner: The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor

1957
Loser: Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
Winner: The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

1952
Loser: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Winner: The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

1941
Loser: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Winner: Nobody. No award given.

1937
Loser: Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
Winner: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

1930
Losers: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Winner: Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge

1928
Loser: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Winner: The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

1926
Loser: The Great Gatsby
Winner: Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

1921
Loser: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
Winner: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

This is a re-post in slightly different form of an article that appeared on this site in 2007.

You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button at right.

March 5, 2009

Imprint Blight in American Book Publishing

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:16 pm
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The colophon of the respected Margaret K. McElderry imprint.

On this site I focus on the quality of the writing in books and generally avoid reporting on unrelated publishing news or gossip. But an article in today’s New York Times involves a trend that’s been on my mind for years: the proliferation of imprints at major publishing firms.

Many of the new imprints bear the names of their editors. And — to oversimplify a bit — they allow the editors to go out on a limb and buy books that reflect their tastes even if others at their firms dislike them. That freedom is in theory a good thing, because it allows editors to acquire worthy books that may be too narrow to appeal to staff members who might otherwise have to sign off on them. And some imprints have a longstanding reputation for high quality, such as the Margaret K. McElderry children’s imprint at Simon & Schuster.

But named imprints can also remove some of the checks-and-balances at publishing firms. And recently they have produced at least two books so tarnished by questions of credibility that they should never have been published in the form in which they reached stores: James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (from Nan Talese Books at Doubleday) and Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone (from Sarah Crichton Books) at Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

I won’t belabor this point here, but if you’re interested in imprint blight in book publishing, I’ve put up a series of tweets about them on my Twitter feed. Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

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