A reader writes with further reflections on Stephen King, Shirley Hazzard, and the National Book Awards. Hazzard, you’ll recall, told King that literature is not a competition, to which my correspondent replies:
Of course literature is a competition. Writers compete for prizes and readers and laurels, and anyone who fails to get all three (which is just about everyone) suspects the game is rigged in favor of the other, whoever the other might be.
But the real competition is for longevity, and this contest is the great equalizer. There are NBA winners that will fade into obscurity, just as there are million-book sellers who won’t outlast their own lifetimes.
King chose to champion popular bestsellers. (Oh, and primarily men, in genres he likes, as opposed to women writing romance, which outsells everything else.) But what about midlist writers working in genre? What about the one-in-a-million self-pubbed writer who has something to say? I agree with Hazzard on this point: this was not the time or place to give others a reading list.
By the way, I never understood the outraged reaction to King receiving an award that had previously gone to Oprah Winfrey at an event that’s been emceed by Steve Martin. I wonder if those who objected so vociferously to King have ever looked at the complete list of NBA winners over the years, which in 1980 recognized mysteries and westerns. John D. MacDonald is an NBA winner. As is Lauren Bacall, for her autobiography.
I’d noticed that Winfrey (not to mention Ray Bradbury) was among the previous winners of the lifetime-achievement award received by King, but I hadn’t looked at more than the last couple of years’ worth of National Book Awards. Very nice catch.
My correspondent is Laura Lippman, whom I cited
the other day as a genre writer whose books I read, enjoy, and admire. If you haven’t read any of Laura’s Tess Monaghan novels (there are several) and want to try her out, you might consider starting with her latest book, Every Secret Thing, which is her first non-series novel. (Laura might not agree with me about this, but I think the Tess books, like the Aubrey-Maturin novels–or any other roman fleuve, for that matter–profit from being read in sequence. If that piques your curiosity, the first one is Baltimore Blues.)