As you probably know, there was no Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year. Or, as I like to tell people, I tied with Jeffrey Eugenides in Pulitzers this year. Boo-ya!
I don't really care about the Pulitzer Prize, but Ann Patchett does. Ms. Patchett is a bestselling author who opened a bookstore in Nashville, and yesterday she wrote in the New York Times about why it's terrible that there's no Pulitzer for fiction this year.
I guess literary fiction heads take this stuff very seriously, which is cool--I'd probably be shocked if there were no Printz award. Or no Newbery. Or no Nebula. Or Hugo.
But I do take issue with one part of Ms. Patchett's essay: With book coverage in the media split evenly between “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “The Hunger Games,” wouldn’t it have been something to have people talking about “The Pale King,” David Foster Wallace’s posthumous masterwork about a toiling tax collector (and this year’s third Pulitzer finalist)?
Let's put aside the fact that the Times' copy editors are apparently okay with this misuse of quotation marks. It seems that Ms. Patchett lives in a world where David Foster Wallace is not the most overrated novelist ever, which seems like a place I would like to visit, but here's my issue: this is in the part of the essay where Ms. Patchett is explicitly talking as a bookseller.
In other words, if you go into Parnassus Books in Nashville, you can probably buy a copy of The Hunger Games or Fifty Shades of Grey, but you can do so secure in the knowledge that the owner of the store doesn't really want your business and thinks you're kind of a rube for not reading literary fiction.
This sentence in the essay reminded me the scene in High Fidelity where the asshole clerk (Jack Black in the movie) abuses a guy who comes in looking for a copy of "I Just Called to Say I Love You."
I mean, Ann Patchett has gotten a lot of ink for opening this bookstore, and she's saying in the national press that she doesn't really want to sell the books that people actually want to read.
Of course it's her money and her store, so she can do what she wants. But I'd rather not read another article about how this heroic business is making a brave stand against corporate hegemony and blah blah blah when it's clear that, businesswise, Parnassus is shooting itself in the foot.
If you think customers won't catch your dispproving vibe when you want to buy The Hunger Games instead of David Foster Wallace, then clearly you never tried to buy a copy of The Fury of Firestorm at a comic store in the 80's. Or a pop record at a used record store.
In other words, if your own snobbery is costing you business, then you can't really complain about evil corporate overlords shutting you down with their predatory business practices. The community-building aspects of bookstores are written about a lot, and are, I think, a lot of the reason people shop there. But if you're implicity or explicitly excluding people from that community, well, don't be surprised if they place their order from a business that won't judge their taste.