Fresh off the year-end seal of approval from Publishers Weekly, the National Book Critics Circle is getting another round of applause, this time from the Association of American Publishers, which has announced that it will present the NBCC with its AAP Honors, “an award given annually to individuals and institutions outside the publishing industry for significant achievements in promoting American books and authors,” next March. (Previous recipients include Oprah Winfrey, Brian Lamb, the Today show, NPR, and USA Today.)
According to the press release announcing the prize, “members of the NBCC Board of Directors speak out on the country’s premier literary blog, Critical Mass.” Now, as happy as I am for the Circle, I really have to question that assessment. Not for my own sake, by any means—this blog is hardly literary, and my tenure here has necessarily reduced my involvement in my first website. But to suggest that in less than two years of existence, Critical Mass has surpassed sites like The Elegant Variation, The Mumpsimus, or MaudNewton.com? Risen to the level of, perhaps—the guest essays on Critical Mass can be quite good, and I’m even willing to reconsider my earlier assessment that those essays are thrown together in a thematic jumble. But surpassed? I’d politely suggest that’s overly generous; “one of the nation’s premier literary blogs” would have sufficed.
Less significant, perhaps, is the Association’s claim that “the NBCC has fought to foster a national literary culture,” the indefinite article weirdly implying that the Circle has had to assemble said culture from scratch, as if America didn’t have one already. Or is the Association suggesting the current national literary culture (or cultures) aren’t good enough and we need the Circle to put the “right” literary culture in place?
Now, that might not be an entirely unreasonable argument to make, especially given the recent statistics on how little reading Americans do for fun once all their youthful enthusiasm for books has been stomped out of them in adolescence. Or it might as uncomfortably elitist as many found the Circle’s original stances during its “Campaign to Save Book Reviewing,” stances which have begun to shift notably in the months since, once they began to realize that when it comes to getting people jazzed about the books we love, we’re all in this together. What do you think?