Booksellers like the pretty gold stars

The National Book Award winners will be announced tonight.

Lynn Neary’s NPR report considers the book world’s reaction to the finalists, and offers some interesting observations from James Wood about the increasing influence of literary prizes (a familiar theme for the critic). As more books are published, Wood says, bookshops take their prompting from prize lists, moving the books emblazoned with gold stars to the front tables.

Aside from the nomination of the 9-11 Commission Report, this year’s coverage of the book awards in the mainstream press has focused largely on the obscurity and alleged homogeneity of the finalists, all books written by women from New York.

Carolyn See, a novelist and former National Book Award judge, told Neary she believes the judges simply “did this revolutionary thing, which is, they said, ‘we’re gonna pick the best books.'”

Wood says there are always other considerations:

One of the myths about prize committees is that they exist in a sort of pure, disinterested rarified air in which they’re simply tasked with selecting the best books of the year. I think they do want to do that, but there are always other things going on, and I think, in this instance, there was a desire to move the lens a little bit, away from the obviously garlanded to something more obscure.


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