"Real literature escapes being measured so crudely"

Rockslinga pal Jim Lewis exchanges emails with Jeff Salamon over at the Statesman regarding the NYT’s “best book of the last 25 years” exercise (I prefer to think of it as a white boys’ bukkake). Here’s some of what Jim had to say:

Please forgive me for saying so, but this sort of exercise, in both the Times’ form and in your refraction of it, strikes me as hopelessly vulgar and meretricious, and stupefying to one’s sense of the use and value of books. The literary world can be competitive, of course, but we should hardly encourage its devolution into an out-and-out contest, whether for first place or last. Books aren’t written that way, or read that way; and culture doesn’t work that way, nor does history remember that way.

And later, about the fact that the list of judges includes only three Latinos, of whom only one is American (Junot Diaz):

Were there no other American Latinos they could think of, or did they all demur? I don’t think you have to wait to see the list before you make the judgment: Either way would be telling. Where was Sandra Cisneros or Christina Garcia or Julia Alvarez, or Richard Rodriguez? While I’m at it, where was Sherman Alexie, or Colson Whitehead – not because they’re point men for ethnic groups, but just because they’re American writers of some prominence. For that matter, where’s McMurtry? As long as we’re inviting Ian McEwan, why not Orhan Pamuk? My point is not that they should have had some sort of affirmative action clause at work, but only that it would be nice to see a list, naturally derived, which reflected the true state of American literature today.

I recommend that you buy and read his novels: Why the Tree Loves the Ax, Sister, and The King is Dead. They’re all brilliant, and his characters–many of them misunderstood criminals– are unforgettable.

Also: he has an article in the Times Magazine today about Biloxi, FEMA, and the New Urbanists, with some hilarious Kool-aid metaphors.

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