smugly crowing roosters, and the lit-criterati

Normally I would not bother with yet another literary award, by the literati, for the literati. As this one is sufficiently self-mocking, I point you to The First Annual TMN Tournament of Books, an award thought up by the literati/criterati minded at The Morning News. The award is The Rooster. Or a rooster:

We have looked into shipping a live rooster to the winner. We are still looking.

All this started on February 7 and is still going on. It’s worth looking at if you first take this proviso seriously:Which brings us to our next point: Arbitrariness is inherent in book awards. The way books are nominated, the judges who consider them, the division of labor as the books are assessed—arbitrary, arbitrary, arbitrary, bordering on meaningless. Our plan for the tournament is to make the proceedings no less arbitrary but far more transparent. We’ve already explained how the books were nominated, and as the tournament proceeds you will know which of our judges selected which books to advance and why. You’ll also know something about each of these judges’ preferences and biases and so forth, so when your favorite novel is eliminated by a work you judge to be lighter than chick lit, you’ll know why. Results from each bracket will be released sequentially on weekdays from February 7th to February 28th, when we will award The Rooster to the winner.

And I have to admit that some of the battles are quite amusing. Although I will state first, and for the record, that I still strenuously object to this idea:We limited the selections to novels, and also to the ‘you-know-it-when-you-see-it’ genre known as literary fiction.

One of the judges is Mark Sarvas of the Elegant Variation. I had a short, interesting debate with him some time ago on the matter of (his term) ‘serious’ fiction. You can read the whole exchange here.  Mark abandoned the conversation after I made this point:

My point is, the distinction between “a yarn, a page-turner, a good time” and “serious literature” is an artifical one that has more to do with dogma than a real examination of what makes fiction work. I would call most of Austen and Dickens page-turners, and certainly I have a good time when I’m reading them. They are also thematically rich, highly plotted and full of interesting characters. The no-pain-no-gain approach to reading strikes me as perverse, and truly unnecessary.

Maybe he had nothing to say. Maybe he had to pick up his dry cleaning and forgot about it; maybe he found better things to do. All possible. However, given this basic very big difference in philosophy and approach, I mostly don’t read the weblogs written by the self-anointed guardians of so-called serious literature. I made an exception for The Rooster. Because it made me laugh.

[title size=”2″]Comments[/title]

I can understand your frustration, Rosina, at the distinction which is constantly made between literary fiction and other fiction. But the distinction between high and low art has been in place for a long time, I’m not sure that its likely to change soon. On the more positive side, I’m not sure how much stock the general reading public put on book awards anyway.

Posted by: Jacqui at February 14, 2005 03:02 AM

Jacqui — I wouldn’t really call it frustration. Annoyance, maybe, on those days I don’t just screen it all out to start with.

Posted by: rosina at February 14, 2005 07:02 AM