Sunday, June 4, 2017

Formula of failure: the pleasure principle


First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

The first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded on this day in 1917. Laura Richards and Maude Elliott won the prize for biography, with their book about the 19th-century writer and suffragist Julia Ward Howe. Jean Jules Jusserand, the French ambassador to the United States from 1902 to 1925, won the prize for history: With Americans of Past and Present Days. Herbert B. Swope of the New York World won the prize for journalism, and when he picked up his award, said: "I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula of failure - which is try to please everybody."

And there is this personal postscript:

I like Swope's formula, and all writers ought to take Swope's words as scripture. But, switching gears, I must tell you that I have my doubts about the quality of books awarded prizes. Occasionally, almost as if by accident, a good book wins a prize or award, but most often the lop-sided laurels are given for reasons other than merit. This has become especially true in recent decades when political correctness, secular progressive liberal agenda, gender and race issues, market considerations, publishers' pressures, and other extraneous matters dominate prize committee decisions. All awards and prizes for literature seem to suffer from the same problems, and I could expand this posting and preempt your input by citing dozens of examples, but I defer to you. What do you think?



8 comments:

  1. I honestly think, Tim, that awards and quality of book have very little overlap. Sometimes, in some cases, the award indicates a book of high quality. But I certainly don't take an award as any indication that a book is of quality.

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    1. Margot, awards might have once been a measure of quality, but I think that ship sailed long ago.

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  2. it's all about the money... whichever book they think will sell best(the one that appeals most to the lowest, richest levels)is the one that wins... welcome to the 21st c..... grrr

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    1. See what Frank Wilson notes when he links to this posting:
      https://booksinq.blogspot.com/
      Scroll down to find the link and comment about Nobel prizes.

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  3. I agree that it is impossible to make everyone happy and achieve anything substantive. It seems some folks will become unhappy, or even become angry at anyone who creates imaginative things.

    I do not know enough about book awards to have any kind of informed opinion about them. When I look at who won the Nobel Prize for Literature over the years, it seems to be a combination of the great and the forgotten.

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  4. It varies. Depends on the award. Depends on how it is judged.

    I was on a National Book Award committee one year, and I would say that the five writers took the job seriously when they read 316 books and reread some of them. We had a lot of unity on what the first two choices were. Picking the third and fourth for the short list was harder. The fifth was very hard. Choosing the winner was between the first two, and we talked it out amicably. But I heard some hair-raising stories about other committees, and I've had my doubts about other winners.

    One of the problems is that not every good book is nominated by the publisher. And some publishers with deep pockets nominate lots.

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    1. Marly, your final paragraph nails it.

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