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Lauren Myracle teaches the National Book Awards a lesson in integrity.

October 19, 2011

Lauren Myracle

Displaying an appalling lack of class, the National Book Award has forced Lauren Myracle to withdraw from consideration. Meanwhile, Julian Barnes has won Britain’s equivalent prize, the Man-Booker.

You may remember the mild embarrassment last week when Myracle’s YA novel Shine was rescinded as one of the five finalists in the Young People’s Literature category when NBA officials confessed a “miscommunication.” The judges had meant to say Chime, the title of Franny Billingsley’s YA fantasy novel.

Oh, shoot, the NBA said. Let’s leave Shine in the mix, as it almost made the short list anyhow. We’ll be cool with six nominees instead of five this year.

By Friday, the NBA brain trust, had changed its mind. Again.

Visit the Miami Book Fair International website to see the gaudy author list (Roseanne Cash! Jeffrey Eugenides! Nicole Kraus! Michael Ondaajte! Hundreds more! Literally!). This year’s fair runs Nov. 13-20. More details to come. Watch this space!

In a written statement, Myracle said that she “was asked to withdraw by the National Book Foundation to preserve the integrity of the award and the judges’ work,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

And of course on top of everything else, NBA officials are now being mealy-mouthed about the whole mess. As the Associated Press reports, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, the NBA’s parent organization, refused to confirm that Myracle had been pressured to withdraw.

“We agree with her that the integrity of the judging process means the five selections by the judges need to be the National Book Award finalists,” said Harold Augenbraum.

Let that sink in for a minute. You pressure an author to resign from the competition because of your mistakes, then you quote her on the “integrity of the judging process.” A glance at Myracle’s statement shows that language came not from her, but from the NBA.

Clearly, the National Book Foundation does not employ a PR consultant. The shabby treatment of Myracle undermines the “integrity” of the National Book Awards far more than either the original error, or the prospect of having six titles in the short list instead of five. Really? One additional title compromises the integrity of the judging process?

Myracle, a veteran and highly acclaimed author of topical Young Adult novels, has conducted herself with the class sadly absent from the behavior of the National Book Foundation. I can only imagine the emotional whipsaw she’s been on — the elation of being nominated, the disappointment of being told it was a mistake, and then the humiliation of being asked to drop out.

And yet she has displayed nothing but the dignity we might expect from the author of Shine, a novel about an anti-gay hate crime. She even gently strong-armed a bribe out of the NBA, which has agreed to make a $5,000 donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation in her name.

This is all unbelievably stupid, and calls into question the notion that the people at the NBA are smart enough to choose the best books of the year. Seeking to sidestep a puddle, they have tumbled into a mud hole.

Myracle walks away a winner, her reputation intact. Fans rallied to her support on Twitter and Facebook, and the Amazon ranking for Shine shot up from 1,976 at the start Monday to 263 by the end of the day.

Lost in all this, sadly, is Billingsley. She doesn’t write issues books like Myracle, so she doesn’t have fans who survived cutting or sexual abuse or the ravages of some other contemporary social ill. But Chime is an inventive fantasy with a  flawed heroine, sharp word play, and a fresh take on folklore and magic.

My advice: Buy both books — not so much to compare them, but to enjoy the very different pleasures provided by each one.

Across the pond, fourth time proved the charm for Julian Barnes, who won the Mann Booker Prize with his novel The Sense of an Ending. Long considered one of modern England’s top novelist, the 65-year-old author had previously been short listed for Flaubert’s Parrot (1984), England, England (1998) and Arthur and George (2005).

The other finalists on the shortlist were: Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch; The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt; Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan; Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman; Snowdrops by AD Miller.

In his acceptance last night, Barnes took the occasion to defend the printed book against the rising primacy of electronic publishing, reported the Guardian.

 

“Those of you who have seen my book, whatever you think of its contents, will probably agree it is a beautiful object,” Barnes said. “And if the physical book, as we’ve come to call it, is to resist the challenge of the ebook, it has to look like something worth buying, worth keeping.”

 

 

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2011 2:02 pm

    Congrats to Julian Barnes, a writer who deserved the prize for FLAUBERT’S PARROT. And bless him for what he said about the beauty of a book in your hands.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      October 19, 2011 5:58 pm

      I agree on both points.

  2. October 19, 2011 3:28 pm

    I bet Barnes thinks his Kindle ranking (#27) is a thing of beauty as well.

  3. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    October 19, 2011 6:00 pm

    Well, Barnes has demonstrated he can hold two contrary ideas in his noggin at the same time. In the past he’s frequently slagged the Booker as “posh Bingo,” but he also admitted relief yesterday at finally winning the damned thing. So, no, I doubt he’s refusing the royalties from Kindle.

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