Monday, March 02, 2009

I don't know what it means to "transcend the genre."

Nominations are out for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, and as always, they're sure to start some discussions.

Because so much of my reading time last year was spent on work-related stuff -- except for my five weeks in New York, when I mostly read paperbacks -- I've only read two of the titles nominated in the Mystery/Thriller category, and only one of the books nominated for Best Novel. I started one of the Best First Novel nominees, and wound up putting it aside, as I didn't like it as much as I'd hoped to.

What interests me, though, is the fact that at least one of the Best Novel nominees -- Lush Life by Richard Price -- could just as easily be nominated in the Best Mystery/Thriller category, and I wonder how and why it wound up in the general literature category. Unlike other literary prizes, the L.A. Times Book Prize does not invite authors or publishers to submit titles for consideration; all nominations originate from the judging panels.

Lush Life was an excellent book. Was it better than Nina Revoyr's The Age of Dreaming, nominated in the Best Mystery/Thriller category and on my own (extended) Best of 2009 list? I didn't think so, but judged prizes are necessarily subjective.

Anyway, this post isn't about the nature of literary prizes; it's about the question of why Nina Revoyr's book (or Tom Rob Smith's, or Colin Harrison's) is considered a mystery/thriller and Lush Life, a police procedural, is deemed "literature."

Cyril Connolly wrote, "Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice." I don't think I'd read Lush Life again, but then I'll probably never read Anna Karenina again, either. Does that mean it's not literature?

I'm sorry I've been so scarce around here lately. Between the play, out-of-town company, various work projects and the weather, I've been a little overwhelmed. Bell, Book & Candle closed on Saturday night, and I am scrambling to catch up on many different things. Thank you all for your patience; March should be more orderly.


Karen Olson said...

I had the same reaction you did when I saw Lush Life on the Best Novel list of nominees.

And I hate the term "transcend the genre."

A good book is a good book, and it's sad that we all have to be put into little boxes on the assumption that a reader won't know what they're getting into unless the cover says "a mystery," "a suspense novel," "a novel."

Laura Benedict said...

Glad to hear things aren't so frantic. Congrats on a successful run for Bell, Book & Candle!

(Hm. My captcha is DEMED--wonder if it's trying to tell me something.)