LitBlog Coop Controversy

Publisher’s Marketplace reports that the Litblog Co-op (which includes our friends Sarah Weinman and Mark Sarvas) is generating controversy with their first "Read This" pick, Kate Atkinson’s novel CASE HISTORIES.

In initial"comments" posted by blog readers, at least a few express disappointment with what one co-op member acknowledges was the "biggest" of the five nominated books. Atkinson’s book, published here last fast fall, registered widely within
the mainstream reviewing circles to which the lit-bloggers want to offer an alternative. Our own Book Review Index has logged 18 full-length reviews from top newspapers–almost all quite enthusiastic.

As one poster remarks: "You say yourselves that the LBC’s purpose is to draw attention to ‘the best of contemporary fiction, authors and presses that are struggling to be noticed in a flooded marketplace.’
So how does this novel qualify? It seems like a middlebrow cop out." Another reader concurs with the sentiment: "Nothing against Kate Atkinson, but a Whitbread Award Book of the Year winner whose latest novel is being published by Little, Brown hardly seems to be a choice in keeping with the spirit of the LBC’s self-imposed mission."

My brother Tod Goldberg says it’s definitely the "in" book right now.

I’ve heard lots of good things about this book and may have already told more
important literary types at cocktail parties and readings that I’ve already read
it and simply adored it and was seriously considering sending the author a fan
letter, but the fact is I haven’t, though I intend to.

People on Tod’s blog are hotly debating the choice as well. The gist of the argument is, since the book is already generating a lot of attention, did it really need help from the Litblog Coop? Should the LitBlog Coop have gone further afield and picked a book that’s struggled for  attention? Author Lynn Viehl, for one, thinks so:

Now, I’m a little slow, and kinda confused, so maybe one of you nice
people will explain this to me. We’re supposed to be getting the skinny
on struggling writers, books and presses from the LBC, correct? Um, how is Kate Atkinson struggling, exactly?  Did she like blow all her Whitbread prize money?

Based on the backblog debates on the various blogs, it seems the LitBlog may have stumbled out of the gate with this choice, but the judges are defending their pick. Mark Sarvas says:

Remember, we never said "unknown" fiction … Worthy is the goal, and besides if
we’d have picked some obscure, experimental novel, we’d be pilloried for being
pedantic and elitist.  We only means you can’t please everyone and we’re not
even trying.  We’re confident that those who check out Case Histories
will be glad they did, and the ones who knew it already have future choices to
look to (including the other four summer nominations).

What do you think? Did The LitBlog undermine their own highly-publicized intentions with their first "Read This!" honoree?

5 thoughts on “LitBlog Coop Controversy”

  1. FWIW, the fact they have to have some kind of majority vote means that they’re only going to pick books that all of them are familiar with.
    How else are they going to correct this? Ask for 20 review copies of each book? Pass one book around? Scan it in and e-mail it as a text file?

  2. As I said on my own blog, acclaim doesn’t equal sales and so I think people are getting all in a tither over a non issue — I’d wager to say that the book has not sold tremendously well in the US despite its glowing reviews, so if the book truly is fantastic, why not celebrate the fact to a new audience? I don’t think the LBC has charged itself with reading every book published, only to find and champion work they like, so I give them the benefit of the doubt: this is the book they liked best (or the 5 nominators, anyway).

  3. I think it’s also worth pointing out that while CH got many glowing reviews at the time of its publication, that was back in November ’04 (in the US). Now it’s May 2005, when presumably the book has sold about as much as it possibly can in hardcover, and the push would be on for the paperback release, slated for October.
    And book buyers have tremendously short memories.

  4. I think it’s too soon for anybody to have “undermined” anything.
    Things get ironed out in long-term projects. That it has come to exist at all is significant, and it’ll likely only improve from here.

  5. This tempest in a t. seems to highlight a curious thing: books which are truly off the beaten path don’t get found even by a bunch of bushwacking path-less-travelers whose goal is to delve into the blackest thickets and emerge with … better metaphors than this.
    Mostly, the problem is: they seems to think they’re going to bring a fairly well-known literary novelist to the attention of readers who read to be entertained. They’re not. At best, they’ll bring the attention of an absolutely unknown literary writer to the attention of the 10,000 people who read literary fiction–which is why they missed the, er, bushwacking boat this time around.


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