This week brought the 2010 Orange Prize announcement, with Barbara Kingsolver taking top honors for The Lacuna. I’ve waffled about reading this book, intimidated by its chunkiness and some mixed reviews. Two bloggers I respect have come out on completely opposite sides of the fence: Jackie at Farmlanebooks (1 star, DNF) and Jill at The Magic Lasso (5 stars). What’s an Orange Prize aficionado to do?
Well, read it, of course. I need to experience The Lacuna for myself. And besides, I’ve read all the other Orange Prize winners, and ages ago I decided the 2010 winner would be on my Orange July reading list. My first thought was to reserve a copy at my library. But then book anxiety set in. What if hordes of southern Pennsylvania readers rush to request The Lacuna? And oh dear, it’s a long book. What if those hordes of library patrons read slowly, and then I can’t get my hands on The Lacuna in July? And finally, will the hardcover library edition be too bulky to carry to and from work, or read in bed? Again, what’s an Orange Prize aficionado to do?
Yes, I fretted over all these things for about 48 hours. And then I caved. I ordered a copy of The Lacuna. And here begins my rant.
Why is a prizewinning novel by an American author not available in paperback in the US until August 24? Mind you, Amazon is currently selling a hardcover edition at an almost-like-paperback price, but I still find this annoying. The Book Depository, with its delightful free shipping, came to my rescue once again.
And then I noticed a larger issue about this year’s Orange Prize winner. The US press has almost completely ignored Kingsolver’s win. The New York Times had an oh-so-tiny blurb in its “Arts, Briefly” section. Likewise, The Washington Post published a brief article based on an Associated Press release. National Public Radio mentioned Wolf Hall as “the bookmaker’s favorite,” but said nothing about the winner. What’s up with that?
The British press was all over it, especially The Guardian, which I love for its extensive coverage of all things literary. They announced the winner, and followed up with articles about the critics’ reactions; an overnight increase in sales of The Lacuna, an author interview, and an in-depth look at the author’s life of writing. The most extensive US coverage I’ve seen came from Jill, who writes a column for the St. Petersburg Book Examiner (yay, Jill!).
Why is Barbara Kingsolver, a doyenne of contemporary American literature, being ignored in her own country? There was far more nationalistic fervor over USA’s pathetic draw against England in their opening match of the World Cup. Gender bias would be an obvious answer, but I don’t think that’s it. Rather, I think it’s a sad commentary on the state of arts and literature in this country, and on general lack of public interest in books and reading.
That’s a big problem with no single solution, but everyone can take some small action. I’m going to start by reading The Lacuna. And then I’ll blog about it, and talk about it with friends, and try to do my part to give Kingsolver the recognition she deserves.
What about you?
Read more from The Sunday Salon here.