The National Book Critics Circle Finalists were announced over the weekend, and I’m ashamed to admit that, while I did purchase one book on the list as a Christmas gift, I’ve heard of only a minority of these titles and have read exactly zero.
I’ve never been all that interested in new releases; if it’s still in hard cover at the bookstore, I’m probably not going to even look at it. I’m the type of person that doesn’t like to buy books online even, because I like to pick them up, hold them, before I make a final decision. And hard covers just never feel right.
But still, none of that seems to give me, a literary person, an excuse to have read none of these books and therefore be in no position to comment upon their worthiness (or otherwise). And I wonder: Is this a symptom of having spent too many years with English curriculums that seem to set an inverse ratio between date of publication and quality? That seem to ignore a book until there is a body of literature surrounding and cushioning it?
It isn’t until college, I suspect, that most people start to receive a more balanced canon, but while most universities have courses on Shakespeare or American Literature of the 1800s or Modernism, it can be difficult to find classes devoted entirely to, say, literature of the past five or ten years. So why is it that, as a system, we turn the readers of today and tomorrow away from the writers of today and tomorrow? There is value, to be sure, in understanding which authors and trends, which pieces of history, got us to where we are today. It is important to understand how books and authors speak to one another across the years. But without the link to contemporary writing–and I don’t mean contemporary as thirty or forty years ago but rather as two, as three–we’re creating readers who only know how to look backward.