The worst judge, etc.

Dispatched to Rick Moody’s side, Dennis Loy Johnson reveals the dark machinations behind this year’s National Book Award finalist selections:

Moody was inside surrounded by toadies peeling grapes for him. He leapt up and grabbed me by the lapels and said, “You gotta help me! You gotta get me out of this! Those women at the Times — Caryn James, Laura Miller, Deborah Solomon — they’re trying to kill me! I mean, when Michiko Kakutani gets out of her court-mandated anger management classes, I’m a dead man!”

I slapped him hard across the face. It was enjoyable so I did it again. “Snap out of it!” I told him. “Now start from the beginning. What the hell happened?”

“I don’t know!” he cried. “I thought we were doing what they said. I mean, they said not to pick more than one token book from a small or independent press, because that would decentralize power and be good for the book business on the whole, which they just can’t have, because everybody knows that diversity just blows . . .”

“Okay, you got that right. Go on.”

“. . . they said not to pick anything avant-garde or, you know, transgressive, or, well, interesting . . . ”

“Yeah yeah. Why expand the notion of popular readability? It’s easier to just sell the same few kinds of books over and over again to the average robotron American, so forth and so on. Continue.”

“. . . and they said to pick five women from New York.”

“Hold it,” I said. “Stop right there — You thought they said five women from New York?”

“Well, yeah,” he said. “I mean, why would they want five men from New York. It’s always five men from New York.”

I just looked at him and shook my head.

“You mean –” He slapped a hand to his forehead. “Oh my god — they said men! I mis-heard them!”

“Exactly. What’s more, you picked five women with a short story aesthetic. I mean, were you drunk? Women, with an eye toward concision, poetry, thoughtful observation — sweet Jesus, were you trying to just kill Mother Literature?”


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