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Almost as if God gave each one of us a brain

Literary awards are more than just ego boosts these days. As the critic James Wood observed a few years back, "prizes are the new reviews," the means by which many people now decide which books to buy, when they bother to buy books at all. There are some 400,000 titles published per year in the U.S. alone -- one new book every minute and a half -- according to Bowker, a company providing information services to the industry, and there are fewer people with the time and inclination to read them. If you only read, for example, about five novels per year (a near-heroic feat of literacy for the average American), you could limit yourself to just the winners of the NBA, the Pulitzer, the National Book Critics Circle, the Booker Prize and then, oh, a Hugo or Edgar winner -- or even a backlist title by that year's Nobel Prize winner. You'd never have to lower your sights to anything unlaureled by a major award.

On the other hand, if you've just self-published a book on parrot keeping or your theories on how the world could be better run (a favorite topic of retired gentlemen), what can you do? If you weren't able to find a publisher who wanted it, you can also expect to be routinely disqualified for review in the general media and, above all, for prizes. Yet have no fear, you Cinderellas of the publishing game, because (to nab a line from someone else's promotional campaign) there's an app for that. (Laura Miller, “Vanity Book Awards,” Salon, 17 November 2009)

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I'm a novelist

A book is published every ninety seconds?

Memoir is the most popular form with readers?

I think I'll just go and kill myself now. (LauraBB, Response to post, “Vanity Book Awards”)

@laurabb

It gets worse: around the globe, there's probably a thousand people born EVERY SECOND! Could you imagine if we had a world/society nurturing enough, that each and everyone of them could write something particular to themselves, and great to read?! Could you imagine a hundred million writers out there -- all good to great --and what that would do to an author's self-esteem, place in the world, the contortions it would inspire to his/her ostensibly progressive sensibilities?! There's genius and beauty in every one of you -- what a nightmare if that were in fact true!

Patrick

Whatever your problem is - I sense a case of toxic resentment - it isn't with me. (LauraBB, “Vanity Book Awards”)

@laurabb

What is your problem with a book being published every ninety seconds?

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Being an author still carries status, and there are a lot of unhappy people who want that. But they do not realize how much work goes into being excellent, no matter what the field. This is not necessarily their fault. Popular media loves the Cinderella story in its many permutations, and downplays the time and work that precede discovery.

In open-to-anyone writers' groups, there are people who seem to learn the mechanics of writing even though they do not possess the ear for it. It is akin to someone who is tone deaf learning to go up a note and down two and sometimes being on key, but invariably ruining a song by at least one off-key assault.

They cannot help it. (trace element, Response to post, “Vanity Book Awards”)

Re: Being an author still carries status, and there are a lot of unhappy people who want that. But they do not realize how much work goes into being excellent, no matter what the field. This is not necessarily their fault. Popular media loves the Cinderella story in its many permutations, and downplays the time and work that precede discovery.

Books felt like this about thirty years ago--now in so much that is lauded, I smell deference, not discovery. Rather, you get a sense that if someone actually came up with something new, s/he'd have slipped off the only track those regularly published are capable of seeing before them. It's why some literate people write books titled, "Is it just me, or is everything shit?"; it's why some of the literate go through blogs and letters more keenly -- where exactly are the interesting to be found, if not in books?--than you might know.

re: In open-to-anyone writers' groups, there are people who seem to learn the mechanics of writing even though they do not possess the ear for it. It is akin to someone who is tone deaf learning to go up a note and down two and sometimes being on key, but invariably ruining a song by at least one off-key assault.

They cannot help it.

But I thought you were arguing that the danger in too many books is that it becomes more difficult for the truly literate to be spotted. This portrayal of non-writers vs. real writers makes it seem as if those who actually are "NBA" quality will always spotted, regardless of how many towers surround them. Speaking of the NBA--one senses that if "they" learned they were missing the real talent, they'd adjust. They care more to find talent, perhaps.

re: The profusion of books, including the self-published ones, means the real jewels are often hidden beneath a pile of mediocrity, and this reduces their chances of being found, let alone read and lauded, as they should be.

I keep company with a lot of imaginative people. I don't see a world of greats vs. non-greats. Rather, there are many greats out there: the question is which ones are best suited for you. People need to be sufficiently nurtured so they develop that sense you rightly laud, so they really do become particular, large, interesting, but they also need to know their voice counts--to get it out there!--so those who would have a nose for their voice, for what they have to say, can find them. Your vision of the few amongst the mediocre many smells of a need for order, of grandiosity . . . comes across as fearful and cruel. People who talk like this I think would be upset if the real truth developed that there are actually a heck of a lot of really good writers out there: that the buried gems analogy could not be well applied to reality. They want a world of dum-dums hoping for props for their (snicker, snicker) masterpiece.

Link: “Vanity Book Awards” (Salon)

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