23 September 08 | Chad W. Post

Over at the Literary Saloon, — Litblogging’s Finest Source of International News — Michael Orthofer reports on Daniel Kehlmann’s article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung railing against the German Book Prize.

I can’t read the article in the original (which can be found here), but Michael’s summary makes it seem like Kehlmann’s shooting off in fairly uninformed manner. (Which is sort of what I’ve come to expect after seeing him at the PEN World Voices Festival last year.)

Apparently he first complains that if a book isn’t on the GBP longlist, it has little chance of being reviewed. Which smacks of bullshit and a bit of a personal grudge perhaps?

But this is the best (in Michael’s translation):

And one knows — I went through it myself — that nominated authors are unofficially informed that staying away from the ceremony would lead to an automatic disqualification. Even if a book is an epochal success, if its author is not willing to swallow some sedative and physically take part in the competition, he won’t receive the prize, a decisive distinction from the National Book Award or the Booker Prize, that as a matter of course regularly are handed out to absent authors.

Er, uh, not. In fact, as Michael points out, it’s right in the NBA guidelines that not only does the author have to attend the ceremony, but he/she “must agree to participate in the Foundation’s Website-related publicity, including on-line “chats” with readers across the country.” And the promotion synergy doesn’t stop there. Also according to guidelines, publishers of the finalists have to pay $1,000 to support promotional activities, pay for their author to attend the ceremony, and purchase medallions from the National Book Foundation to affix to finalists and winning titles.

I hate to suggest that such cooperation helps increase the reach and attention of the National Book Award and may be one of the reasons that so much attention is paid to the winner . . .

I also have to say that Kehlmann’s suggestion of abolishing the longlist is silly from the point of view of a foreign publisher. The German Book Office and others do a fantastic job of getting the word out about new German titles, but nevertheless, a number of books slide right by. This longlist (and Michael’s suggestion of making the list of 160+ nominees available) provides publishers like Open Letter with another source of information. Another list of potentially great titles. Instead of eliminating the longlist, I wish someone would provide sample translations of these books. . .

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