So everybody’s suddenly catching up with our remarks a week ago about Harold Bloom’s
fit of horror over Stephen King’s elevation into the ranks of the “distinguished” by the National
Book Foundation. Here’s Steve Almond on the subject, yesterday in
Mobylives. And here’s Our Girl in Chicago, filling in for fellow Arts
Journal blogger Terry Teachout,
What nobody seems to have picked up on, however, is the salient point that the National
Book Foundation is being taken much too seriously. Everybody has overlooked my lovely little
anecdote about Nelson Algren, who won the foundation’s highest honor, the National Book
Award, and discovered when he tried to hock the medal it came with that he couldn’t get
five bucks for it.
It seems to me Algren’s perspective is the one to take. I realize of course that the tale sounds
too good to be true and that Algren was not above embroidering the truth at times to make a
point. But I checked with an old friend of Algren’s, Roger Groening, and he assured me Algren
also told him that story. And while Groening had no way of knowing whether it was accurate, it
was a story Algren told with the sort of relish that made him believe it, too.