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Thursday, November 20, 2003

More on the NBA 

As promised, Terry Teachout delivers the inside gossip, with additional information offered by the folks at Publisher's Weekly, and an extra side dish from That Gawker Boy. What may have been lost in the focus on King's speech and Shirley Hazzard's response is that Farrar, Straus & Giroux did extraordinarily well with the awards, taking home all but the non-fiction prize.

Not surprisingly, much is focusing on King's quasi-confrontational manner of his acceptance speech, imploring the audience to read genre fiction types such as Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, John Grisham and others. While I agree, I think had I been in the crowd, I may well have squirmed in my seat--and god knows I adore genre fiction and will continue to do so, never mind that in spirit, I agree with King's sentiments. But when is it appropriate to make lists and start lecturing and when is it wiser to keep a steady campaign going, to talk about books one loves, to highlight what makes genre fiction so good and complementary, even, to literary fiction? Point is, I think mainstream and genre have much to learn from each other, and that's a process that must be a continuous one. Snobbery helps no one, but neither too does pointing fingers. Good writing is good writing, whether in a literary, mainstream, genre, or alternative context, whether there's a plot, strong characters, vivid settings, a sense of place, truth or fiction, memoir or biography. People tell stories the way they must, and all I ask for is that the crap go away and the good stuff prevail. Enough of navel-gazing and pondering--unless the writing is truly strong enough to back it up. Feel like genre fiction is "common" or fluff? Then look deeper at the prose, the overall story, the issues conveyed.

Good writing is the key. It's in places we don't necessarily expect it to be, and comes in many different forms. Let's keep our minds open and welcome all the possibilities. No, literature isn't a "competition," as Hazzard put it, and nor should people feel any sense of guilt that they aren't reading the authors King recommends. These things take time, obviously. But labels are just that, designations often arbitrary. If it's good, then that's all that should matter.

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