The Sunday Salon: an Orange Prize rant

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.

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15 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: an Orange Prize rant

  1. That’s a reason to rant if ever there was one (I thought it was more an Orange-specific rant and quite relieved it’s not as you are definitely their most devoted aficionado!) It is a sad state of affairs that there was very little coverage and shocking that a US novelist’s book is not yet available in the US… (I’m bemused by that). I am so relieved for the joy that is The Guardian and their book pages; the coverage of the big book prizes (although with a definite bias towards the UK-based ones) is in-depth and often fully comprehensive that it serves all discussion points.

    • Claire, I admit I went for a provocative title on this post ! As you know the Orange is one of my favorite literary prizes.

  2. Your post has motivated me to pick up the Lacuna next month and read it. I’ve had the book since it was released, but I keep bumping other books ahead of it. It will be interesting to see if you and I will see eye to eye on this one, Laura. I usually agree with Jackie (but not always)…but I also love some of the same books as Jill. Oh dear…

    Re: the lack of US coverage…well, I am not surprised. Given this is a BRITISH prize (the US press can be so snobby), and the fact that it is a prize for WOMEN…not to mention the downsizing of everything literary in presses all over the country…well, it is rather sad. I have to say, I was stunned that in NYC the coverage of the BEA was scanty at best…a huge book publishing event that attracted so many people to the city and they gave it maybe two paragraphs at the back of the entertainment section. So your observation about the lack of attention to arts and literature in this country is valid, I think.

    • Wendy, it will be fun to compare our reviews of The Lacuna! I agree with your point about the US press being snobby — if it doesn’t happen in the US, it doesn’t happen. And I’m sure you hear this was well, but I tire of the everyday people who are completely flabbergasted by how much I read, and who are relatively ignorant of literature beyond the best-seller lists. Sigh.

  3. It is a shame that The Lacuna isn’t available in the US, but it does work both ways – many books are published in the US before the UK. The Book Depository is my friend too!! I did think that the British press was poor at covering literary events, so it is sad to learn that the US is even worse. I’d be happy if they published nothing but bookish news in the newspapers though 😉 I hope that you enjoy The Lacuna – I’ll be interested to see what you make of it!

    • Thanks Jackie. As you know, my first reaction to your review was to put off reading The Lacuna. But since the prize announcement and the coverage in The Guardian, my interest has been piqued. I’m looking forward to it!

  4. An excellent blog post

    !I was very disappointed too by the lack of American coverage of the Orange Prize. Like you said, I believe it has more to do with books/literature not being hot news in general. AP and Reuters did write articles about Kingsolver winning – it wasn’t picked up by many papers though. I guess they had “better” things to report about.

    I hope you enjoy The Lacuna. =)

  5. Well, if it’s any consolation, the fact that the paperback is not out for a few more weeks will ensure that the hardcover copies that do sell will offer a slightly higher royalty payment to Barbara Kingsolver (although the copies sold at a big-box-store discount likely don’t net her anymore than a paperback would).

    But I do understand how hard it is to manage limited book-buying dollars and I chose the audiobook myself because I couldn’t get The Lacuna in paperback in Canada yet either. (I bought Prodigal Summer in hardcover, but I had more book-buying dollars then.)

    I’m saddened to hear that the American press seems so disinterested in Barbara Kingsolver’s win; the conspiracy-theorist in me wonders if her outspoken political opinions have contributed to the lack of recognition, amidst the wider trend of decreasing arts/literature media coverage. Your grassroots movement is surely heartening though!

    • Ah yes … I remember you reviewing the audiobook (and you didn’t like it, right?). You make an interesting point about Kingsolver’s political views. Sad, given the foundation of free speech in this country, but I could see it happening.

  6. Luckily I’ve had The Lacuna on hold at my library for a while and the wait is not too long. Thanks for your comments about the US media coverage, very interesting as I haven’t had time to read the press this week.

  7. I really want to read The Lacuna, if only to find out where I stand in the whole 1 or 5 stars debate. However, I don’t see myself reading this anytime soon. I might give Wolf Hall a try before this one.

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