Paul Beatty Wins the 2016 Man Booker Prize

October 25, 2016 | 64

Novelist Paul Beatty has won this year’s Man Booker Prize for The Sellout, becoming the first American writer to win the Prize. Our own Matt Seidel reviewed the book earlier this year, calling Beatty’s voice “appealing, erudite, and entertaining”; you can trace those voice’s antecedents in this great piece by Alcy Leyva.

Revisit this year’s Booker Shortlist.

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  1. A genuinely hilarious and affirmatively-active nod to that shoddy, second-rate effort from Mr Beatty (and hot on the heels of the Bob non sequitur, eh?); Serious Lit may be on the ropes, but Entertainment is alive and well in the sold-out West… if only in its inadvertent forms! Now let’s see if we can get a Pulitzer for Mr Trump’s inevitable post-Election memoir… (or Hillary’s prison diaries)…

  2. So i am happy for Beatty, but I no longer care about the Booker Prize, a prize that used to excite me, especially the long list, but since America joined the race, it is good bye India, so long Australia, cheers U.K., see ya later Canada. Ok i guess i care enough to comment. But fuck.

  3. @steven augustine

    Crying affirmative action when a person of colour wins a prize? Very nice. Not at all racist.

  4. @Butt

    Har! Don’t try to pull the “racist” card on me: I’m impervious to that maneuver. I’m Black and I say this kind of Cultural Affirmative Action is a condescending, Lit-killing toxin, good Sir or Lady, and it is a decidedly Racist practice (though, admittedly, of the “friendly racism” variety and always preferable to being torched in a tree).

    Beatty himself quite often takes aim at Cultural Affirmative Action… do you think he’s “racist” for pointing it out to his tender White readers? As I commented at “”, where they reviewed The Sellout (about as laceratingly as I have):


    “…’The Sellout’ really is a shoddy piece of work that Beatty clearly stitched together with his patronizingly-forgiving White target demo in mind… he knew he could get away with this kind of thing, because he’d gotten away with it before, but even he, on some level, most be both A) ashamed of how far short the book falls of being good and, B) aware of the irony that bar-lowering Affirmative Action is one of his favorite targets for broad, unfunny, college newspaper-type ‘satire’. Which should make some of us serious readers happy, at least, for the return of one of postmodernism’s favorite Meta-gimmicks: Beatty has entered his own book as an unfunny Black writer that Liberal Whites find hilarious! Bravo?”

    It appears to be a very good time to be a mediocre Writer of Color… better than it is to be a Reader of Color, for sure.

  5. Also: for future reference: to be “Racist” is to notice, invoke, emphasize (or make calculations based on) Race where Race is *logically irrelevant*. People need to stop flapping about with bulging eyes crying “Racist” whenever anyone with an opposing viewpoint, on an issue regarding Race, comments frankly. You may or may not be “offended” by the frankness, but that doesn’t mean the offending comment is racist by default. Ditto with “Sexism”, “Ageism”, “Classism”, “Smellism”, “IQism”, “Dicksizeism” and every other possible grounds over which the Secret Police of Nice may decide to whip out their smiley-face badges and put a stop to the social evil of frank discussion. We aren’t all still 19th-century Quaker virgins, are we…?

    Are we…?

  6. @Heather Curran

    The exact wording escapes me, but somewhere in the fog of recent memory there’s the Booker folks talking about giving long-list preference to books “that had a chance of selling some copies”, or sentiments to that effect. So, I’m not quite sure where you’re headed, but there’s some room for discomfort in the inference that the inclusion of Americans has somehow watered down the Booker. And, unless I’m wildly misreading you, these little hairs at the back of my neck start tingling when I catch even the *hint* that one people, race, nation, culture are to blame for, well, everything going to shit. American hegemony? We are still talking about some silly prizes, right? Speaking only for me, but I don’t find these annual privilege fests to be particularly helpful in making my reading choices, particularly given the apparent transparency of the politics involved in drawing up the lists of nominees.

    Yet, we have what we have. I’ve worked in ‘high culture’ in Europe for a quarter century. All I can offer, anecdotally, is that people are people, no matter where you go. The rarefied air of European progressiveness has done little to prevent small-mindedness. Here, the individual selectors of vaunted prizes can be as parochial, flawed, and beholden to racial, sociological, and political – i.e., non-literary – checklists as they are anywhere. None of this is exclusively an American problem. It is also not outside the realm of imagination that as mediocre as some may judge Paul Beatty’s contribution to be, there was, objectively speaking, even worse stuff coming out of India, Canada, or any of a number of former colonies which Britain can no longer exploit with impunity.

    and now lumping @Steven Augustine in here…

    Indeed, the Booker, by admitting that “American English” is an acceptable literary form, might serendipitously be encouraging progress. And, despite their questionable choices these last three years (were the selected novels truly representative of *the BEST* American writing? harrumph) they have, de facto, boosted the award’s profile. What is unspoken is the admission that the immense American contribution to world literature is finally being acknowledged outside the United States as something other than a purely commercial phenomenon. Literature. Gosh. Americans can write. This is just one instance of a very ugly, condescending “old white world” nativism that one encounters frequently among Europeans who, frankly, oughta know better.

    All this in the context of and in contrast to the Nobel’s – frankly – contemptible, categorical, and deeply ignorant public dismissal of American literature in 2008. This is an acknowledgement long overdue. Over the last century, Americans have produced a weighty, nuanced, conscious literary perspective of the human condition like no other culture, contemporary or historical. I work as a translator and have worked in some arcane forms of applied statistics, and it strikes me that the shock! of “ONLY” 3% of published fiction in the US being translated fiction is as statistically insignificant as it is sociologically inert. This is just straight on stochastics – American lit being that random variable that sends everybody into a tizzy and ruins any chance you have of predicting, say, Bob Dylan. But I digress: the inevitability of Paul Beatty is about Content with an upper case “C”. And this is true across genres, disciplines. Does that make me a homer? Well, when the math is not wrong, I don’t care.

    Sure, American arts and letters also produces a lot of dreck. And science gave us eugenics and cold fusion, religion Jim Jones & 19th-century Quaker virgins (some of whom I count among my best friends), and politics Lenin & The Donald. What I read in translation and foreign-language original invigorates me, and yet – as problematic as the statement may seem on the surface – nowhere do I meet the consistent literary output with the breadth that is exemplified in contemporary American lit.

    So, an American winning the Booker? Yee-haw.

    Or, to put it another way: it seems, more than occasionally, that a mature and confident aesthetic, literary merit, and meaningful cultural critique don’t matter much anymore. There’s nothing in the world quite so offensive as inoffensive literature.

  7. @ Il’ja:

    You sum up my general position fairly well, Old Chum (wink), with:

    “I don’t find these annual privilege fests to be particularly helpful in making my reading choices, particularly given the apparent transparency of the politics involved in drawing up the lists of nominees.”

    When Politics supervenes re: Literary matters… in a prize for *Lit*… as it always does… it’s time for a Renovation (if not a Revolution) in the way we regard not only these prizes but the structure supporting them and, of course, publishing itself. It’s long past time when it’s seemly or useful to play “the wide-eyed kids in footie pyjamas in the wondrous Xmas morning of Great Lit”. Childhood’s end, Baby. If we want a better Set Up, we need to be cantankerous. The Suckage is rising higher…

    My challenge to anyone who thinks The Sellout isn’t a pile of warmed-over, unwashed, year-old gym-socks: post your favorite passage. I can post a dozen favorite passages, each, for every book I consider to be GREAT. If the book is any good, it will yield wonderful passages… if it isn’t, it can’t.

    By suggesting this challenge, of course, I’m hoping to jog anyone from the vagueness of the uncritical trance that keeps them supporting a shitty book/ books simply because the intended message of the shit-books are relevant or noble. Noble intentions do not always lead to fabulous results or cultural artifacts. In fact, they rarely do.

    Let’s see those passages, eh…?

    PS Re: Quaker virgins: goosebumps every time…!

    PPS I think awarding The Booker to an American who can actually write (above a college sophomore’s level) is actually a pretty good idea.

  8. Steve,
    You’ve hit on some salient points here, and at this point I think I need to just quit caring/thinking about awards. But Beatty can’t write? You’re being a bit hysterical here. “Sellout” isn’t great – I don’t think it works as literature, it’s more of an extended standup riff — but at least Beatty has a style, which is more than can be said of the 90% of USA lit the MFA complex spits out. So if we choose to ignore the politics here and pretend the Booker is an acknowledgement and celebration of style, well, not the worst thing in the world, I don’t think.

  9. @il’ja

    “Gosh. Americans can write. This is just one instance of a very ugly, condescending “old white world” nativism that one encounters frequently among Europeans who, frankly, oughta know better.”

    Oh, Roth, DeLillo, Bellow (ugh), Burroughs, Miller, Kerouac, Pynchon, Stein, Vonnegut, Hemingway, Fitzgerald (ugh), Carver (ugh), Malamud, Brodkey (yay), Singer, DFW, Powers (ugh), Baldwin, Auster (ugh), Brautigan (believe it or not) and quite a few other I’m loath (or too absent-minded) to mention are well-regarded by European Lit critters of an intellectual shade. Which is what rankles when The Booker decides to anoint an American writer who writes at a shitty-to-average level… isn’t Beatty’s winning the prize chuckle-inducingly unfortunate, in light of your comment? The Booker had to jump over dozens (if not hundreds) of better (or at least capable) writers to pick Beatty… if there *is*, still, a scrotally-wrinkled-white European prejudice against the force and breadth of American Literary Talent, this year’s Booker-bling doesn’t help!

  10. @Toad

    “but at least Beatty has a style”

    I know you have more exacting standards than that, T! Dan Brown has a style, too. We know why Dan Brown’s bad writing sells by the boat-load. The question here is why Bad Writing (from “the margins”) appears to be winning all the high-profile awards, now, in a sudden spurt of Rainbow Love. One would almost suspect The West of attempting to burnish its image…

    (Laugh. I know that’s too arcane for you to get behind; I’m tossing it out there for the *cognoscenti*…)

  11. “the vagueness of the uncritical trance that keeps them…”

    In eastern orthodoxy we call this self-mystification: the man in dressed like a Christmas tree is chanting in indecipherable archaisms, but he’s doing it in a church so it’s gotta be pious. And I was present the entire three hours.

    The nasty stew of abject desperation and sham exuberance that accompanies the release, commercial success, and eventual lionization of substandard work is hardly shocking though, is it? Too often, in discussions with readers (here), it comes down to “well, I bought it, too, so I felt I’d better like it.” They’d rather silence their critical apparatus than regret money spent. The coercive character of that just kills me. Makes you want to invest in a remote island.

    When, in reading “The Recognitions”, it finally struck me that Gaddis was saying we’d rather be beloved fakes than reviled originals, that we’re addicted to it, it was heartbreaking to admit how deeply, systemically, true what he was saying is.

    Yet, perhaps there’s cause for caution here – that we not arbitrarily dismiss a title just because it made a list. I can’t disagree with your assessment of “The Sellout”, so I won’t be giving you a passage, but I will give you a handful of titles from years past that I never would have seen had they not been long- or short-listed someplace.

    A River Runs Through It – Housekeeping – Tree of Smoke – Train Dreams – and writers, Edith Pearlman, Andrew Krivak, James Kelman, DBC Pierre.

    In the beginning was the Word…and the darkness has not overcome it. Despite the politics, despite the self-propagating prize cycle, the word will prevail, and the real talent will shine, awards or no awards.

  12. Steve,

    It’s a low bar, for sure, or at least it used to be — and I’m not defending Sellout as Booker-worthy — I’m just trying to find a glimmer of hope in what has become a farcical award season. I can’t stand the sanitized anti-style which has become de rigeur these days so I give Beatty like half a gold star (or a full yellow star) for not writing like a robot.

  13. il’ja

    ” Despite the politics, despite the self-propagating prize cycle, the word will prevail, and the real talent will shine, awards or no awards.”

    The shine is always there, My Friend! Now we just need the eyeballs…

  14. Il’ja, perhaps I am assigning more importance to a prize than it deserves, having always had the autonomy to choose and shape my own reading, living close to Toronto I am lucky enough to have so many independent book stores, as a youth found Cortazar, Hugo Claus, just for example, while I admit the Booker long list used to excite me. I discovered Anita Desai, Beryl Bainbridge, Penelope Lively and on and on through reading the old longlists. And at the risk of sounding like an Imperialist, The Commonwealth Prize for fiction ended in 2014, the Booker allows Americans (population over 350 million). America has 3 major fiction prizes (NBCC, National and Pulitzer). My favourite writers mostly hail from the commonwealth. Maybe America is too close to home, so not exotic enough for me? It may be as simple as that. Sorry, I am not the greatest critical thinker, so it is the best answer I can give.

  15. In all fairness to Heather, I sympathize with her sense that a small corner of the cultural universe that wasn’t already dominated by America/ Americans has suddenly disappeared… like a previously protected, ecologically-diverse forest that has now been green-lighted for “development” (ie, it will soon be either a highway or a parking lot, so kiss the tiny asses of the endangered species of the Cyclops Toad goodbye, and so forth).

    Over 25 years ago, when the French Senate approved a law supporting a cultural quota (40 percent of the songs on French radio had to be French), it wasn’t an expression of Xenophobia, it was a frank acknowledgement that without a little protectionism in place, Hollywood (and the rest of the US media octopus) would push local content out of the picture after biting its head off. During the Uruguay round of the GATT talks (1986-1994),

    “… Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association in Hollywood […] particularly despised European film directors for pleading with their governments to exclude cinema, and the arts in general, from the negotiations. Valenti roared back: “Culture is like chewing-gum, a product like any other.” At the time, France’s President François Mitterrand led the rebellion and, sphinx-like, treated the like of Valenti with hauteur. He retorted: “The mind’s creations are no mere commodities and can’t be treated as such.”

    The contrast sums up the opposing views: the US considers cinema and the arts as entertainment industries making profits; Europe considers culture as the product of ideas that go beyond a strict commercial value. In the late 80s, France coined the notion of “cultural exception” which has since morphed into the less arrogant-sounding “cultural diversity”, a principle adopted in October 2005 by Unesco as a legally binding convention passed by 185 states against two. The naysayers were the US and Israel.”

    (to cite an article, on the matter, from The Guardian, 2013)

    I know Cultural Imperialism when I see it and so did The French. Or, to put it in terms that even I can understand: if round about an hour before dinner time, every day, some Pied Piper character drove from playground to playground, in my neighborhood, handing out sacks of candy, I’d want to do something about it. And the very least I’d want to do is get my kids off the playground whenever I saw his red, white and blue van come roaring down the road.

    PS To preempt the obvious nitpick, re: “Europe considers culture as the product of ideas that go beyond a strict commercial value,”… I, too, think that sentence could have been worded more accurately! Laugh.

  16. @Steve…just when I thought I was out.

    “it wasn’t an expression of Xenophobia, it was a frank acknowledgement that without a little protectionism…”

    Oh, mon cheri, I appreciate French Fries and Pepé Le Pew as much as the next feller, but there are at least two problems with this logic: 1) the French are far too refined to lump their “cultural product” in with – what did that supreme ethicist Franky Mitterand call them? – “mere commodities”; 2) we are still talking about France, the sole nation not yet reconciled to the fact that the actual international lingua franca is, um, English; 3) last time I queued up to buy a ticket for a French flick, I got to the cashier and demanded with aplomb: “how can you put a price on ART?!” She sympathized, then took my 120 UAH anyway.

    Because if the French behavior is not xenophobic then that word means nothing. Yes, there is some special snowflake behavior mixed in that still insists there’s a substantive difference between “movies” and “film”. The irony is that madame Le Pen has roundly criticized Ukraine for attempting to limit Russian TV signals in Ukraine, calling it, bizarrely, “a violation of human rights”. Russia, the country which recently, illegally, annexed Crimea, and parked 700 of its tanks in eastern Ukraine in support of a war it started on Ukrainian territory two-and-a-half years ago. And then shot down MH-17 in the bargain.

    In summary, it’s a good thing I wore my hip waders, because when I start hearing about rarefied French or European ideals, I know it’s going to get deep. What did Bernard-Henry Levy (he might be French, not that it matters) call kneejerk anti-Americanism – “the progressivism of the imbecile.” There’s more than a little bad faith involved in an ethos that insisted, on the one hand, on “cultural exceptionism”, and even got the rest of the kids in the club to codify it, but balked, mightily at the idea when Yugoslavia was blowing up for 9 years, and now, all this time later is having itself some serious Islamic backlash.

    That’s a plot ALMOST thrilling enough for a French movie. Err, film.


    Your thinking is fine – you never have to defend your tastes, preferences, unless, of course, they just suck, and then watch out. My problem with the – let’s call it – exclusion of specifically American writing from this catch-all Booker designation was that it smacked of precisely the thing that Steven brought up above – “cultural exclusivity”, which is apparently French for chauvinism (see what I did there?) All the more so since the Booker designation conformed to a strictly political dynamic: The Commonwealth. Culture is supposed to be above that. The Nobel was supposed to be above that. And not that I think United States needs a helping hand on the international front in any area of endeavor, but there is something kind of petty about a default setting of contempt toward American involvement in, well, anything. I don’t adopt this view as some wild-eyed patriot, but because I have a real distaste for categorical thinking of any stripe. You might say I’m categorically opposed to categories.

    America in the Booker is good; I do wish, however, their selections had been more courageous. You know, to REALLY kick some Commonwealth ass.

    And this: I’d drink human fluids to have access to your bookstores. (I might cry here.) I brought two empty suitcases to the festival in Edinburgh for years. Hauled ’em back to Kyiv full of books. Then I discovered Kindle. They try here, real hard, but Ukrainians have yet to figure out what a bookstore can do for the soul.

    P.S. for Steve – it’s too late. I cried “jinx” on your nitpick preempt the moment I read it and nearly choked on my borscht. But it’s way past bedtime, comrade.

  17. @steven augustine

    You need to stop making it about race… (how Black are you lol) This and the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan reflect the establishment’s desperation to “stay relevant” being taken to a whole new level: the recognition of pop culture in any verbal form as literature. The Sellout was the least stuffy of the Booker shortlisted titles, just as the Nobel Committee most likely held a long, intense debate on the universalism of Murakami vs Dylan vs the Ikea catalog before reaching their final decision. While you were busy pondering how anyone could respect a black man’s middling words due to your myopic fixation, the old definition of literature may have died.

    Anyhow, don’t take this affirmative action thing so personal – white geniuses could’ve had an off year, you know? Do you even know what the Booker is? The Man Booker Prize is for books published in the UK between the previous October 1 and September 30 of any given year. None of the great American authors you named qualified. Shockingly, this yearly prize for contemporary fiction is not open to any writer who has ever existed in history. Not convinced you’re up to date enough to complain, much less propose “dozens” or “hundreds” of better choices.

  18. Well “big wet kiss”, I pity you in advance, or better yet, with your barely civil comment, coupled with your anonomous post, perhaps Steven will let your comment slide, as answering your comment is probably a waste of his time. There is NEVER any need to be patronising, this is not The Guardian ya know. Re Nobel: It was never between Dylan and Hurakami. Most wanted Thiong’o, ridiculously over due. But we are talking about the Booker in this comment section, and for fuck’s sake Steven is merely giving examples of writers he thinks would be more qualiified if indeed Americans must join this contest at all. Sorry Steven, can’t sleep, don’t mean to speak for you, like I can read your mind. The line “do you even know what the Booker is” just ticked me off. NO NEED TO REPLY!

  19. @Heather

    I’m going to buy you lunch for that! [gets out coin purse]


    “(how Black are you lol)”

    [Drops pants to gasps of appreciation]

    Now that that’s settled…

    “The Man Booker Prize is for books published in the UK between the previous October 1 and September 30 of any given year. None of the great American authors you named qualified.”

    The list I posted, which you’re referring to (I assume), is one I offered to my good friend il’ja, in response to his comment that European intellectuals don’t think American can write. It’s a list of some American writers who are critically popular in Europe. It wasn’t intended as a list of writers who should have won The Booker. All cleared up?

    I’m merely of the opinion that Beatty’s book reads like the work of a distracted high school senior in need of a good editor… and it would’ve struck me as a little less dated, in its targets, if PB had written it in 1972.

    Q: So, why all the hype? A: It’s all about Race. Maybe the White Liberal target-demo readers think watermelon/ fried chicken/ reefer jokes are edgy…? Or even funny? Or have a point to make in 2016?

    “While you were busy pondering how anyone could respect a black man’s middling words due to your myopic fixation, the old definition of literature may have died.”

    So, you mean to say that maybe books that suck are the new Gold Standard? If so, thanks for the scoop, but I knew that already. Karl Ove Knausgaard, please stand up…!

    All I want is for Black Lit to grow up to the gigantic size and strength (ooops: pulls pants up again) of Black Music… because, as it stands, and for all kinds of reasons (from condescending White Liberals, and a public school system that won’t bother trying, to the historical fact of literacy among Blacks being a capital offence), Black Lit is tragically underdeveloped.

    Maybe you won’t agree; maybe you’ll want to cite Iceberg Slim or Ralph Ellison’s oeuvre of 2.5 novels or Richard Wright’s bestselling rush-job (that climactic court-room scene is almost as bad as a short story by Ray Carver, ferfuxsake) or Zora Hurston’s spotty (and weirdly classist) bookshelf or strangely-conflicted stuff from Ms Walker. It’s amazing that Ishmael Reed made it through The Filter at all. Ask William Greaves or Tom Wilson about The Filter, btw… bona fide Black geniuses have a very hard time of it. Hats off to Kara Walker..

    I’d like to see Black Lit Geniuses get some support… but how can they, when the concept of Black Authenticity defines Literacy away from the concept? America is eerily unanimous in its apparent feeling that a hyper-literate, super-articulate Black is a joke at best and a kind of abomination at worst. Why? To serve a White supremacist agenda, perhaps?

    I’d like to see average Black Writers be inspired to work a little harder, the way so many Black Musicians (under tragic circumstances) were inspired to become Supermen and Superwomen. I don’t want to see a Black DeLillo or a Black Pynchon quite as much as I’d like to see a Black (authorial) Coltrane, Strayhorn, Coleman, Rollins, Mingus, Shepp, Monk, Tyner (you thought I was going to say Peterson, right?) and so on. We already have a Black authorial Sun Ra (Ishmael Reed) and a Black authorial Stan Kenton (Toni Morrison… laugh)…

    In short: if there are works of Black Literary Genius that are out there which haven’t been quashed or stunted in favor of Harmless Lit Lite from the likes of PB and Ms Rankine and shirtless slam poets… and they can be had without needing a crew of Sherpas to reach them… please let me know.


    Beyond that, the greater problem is that The Media are nothing but a cluster of Propaganda Boxes, and high-profile Lit Awards (like high-profile *anything*) are there to serve an agenda which is most often Geopolitical.

    Most Media spikes are reactions to bad PR for NATO/WASHINGTON/THE WEST while the more steady propaganda is there to get Duh Masses on board for things such as, say, the Invasion of Syria… which they’ve been trying to get Duh Masses to green-light since 2011.

    The recent spike in (seemingly randomly-chosen) Black writers scoring MacArthurs and Bookers et al: part of that appears to be an effort to burnish the look and feel of “The West” as Cold War 2.0 heats up. Especially after the “black eye” (ouch) that America’s Utopian Cred has suffered in the wake of BLM. Caribbean writers will be used as tools of Liberal Cover as the Bush/Clinton piratical investment in poor, raped Haiti begins to ripen…

    My good friend il’ja is against demonizing the US and he’s such a scary-bright polymath that I forgive him that (laugh) but my feeling is that you really can’t “demonize” Washington/ NATO/ The West enough these days… they’ve got a very bad Blitzkrieg Addiction. They’re blowing off the heads and limbs of brown children as we sit here with our doughnuts, chatting… and they’re lurking behind the murder of Black children all across the mineral-rich jewel of what my father always called “The Motherland”. People love invoking Godwin’s Law but I say: if the boot fits…

    Of course, if you didn’t quite Grok my earlier comments, you won’t Grok this, but I’m always looking for an excuse to air the arcane conclusions I’ve come to after years of thinking on various matters. I always welcome the opportunity that an “attack” like yours offers me! (high five)

    So thanks for that, BWK.

    (PS Your other pseudonym wouldn’t be Chauncey, would it…? wink)

  20. It matters what the Booker is because their sensibility is mainstream and accessible, not overly intellectual or art with a capital A. Doesn’t seem like you’d like most of their picks throughout the history of the prize anyhow, even the books that aren’t by Americans.

    2016 was a depressing year for Black Literary Genius. A poet named Thomas Sayers Ellis was accused of doing something seriously wrong, repeatedly, and it shattered the heroic image of an heir to the tradition that so many people are nostalgic for, and for many years he was nurtured by literary institutions as the fiery political genius-aesthete. Major letdown that no one can blame on The Filter, though on the whole I agree with you on the suppression of black genius and its motives.

    The problem is aggravated by the fact that there are brilliant nonnative writers who have no connection whatsoever to the American tradition you speak of and who are supported as the new vanguard, which complicates things under the race system.

    PB is not trying to fill the shoes of jazz greats. He’s TV, Dave Chappelle…and a bunch of messy cultural influences. If you look at everything he says about everyone who’s neither black or white, people who are often left out of America’s race conversation, he’s putting forth a pluralistic identity that doesn’t surrender to the demand for Black Authenticity. That’s why he’s refreshing in 2016.

    PB winning the Booker is appropriate, just as Jesmyn Ward winning the National Book Award (an award of much greater seriousness) is appropriate, and there’s room for many different types of writers. Hey, there’s a reason why it’s called The Sellout. Why not read Kiese Laymon instead? He’s hope and a good contrast.

    If this is what passes for Booker comments at The Millions, I’m gonna make like Adrian Piper and cross the Atlantic for good, to The Guardian, where it matters what the Booker is, and they don’t tag team to keep it provincial and unapologetically ignorant. No more black lit talk. It’s too ‘Merican in here!

  21. @BWK

    “It matters what the Booker is because their sensibility is mainstream and accessible, not overly intellectual or art with a capital A. Doesn’t seem like you’d like most of their picks throughout the history of the prize anyhow, even the books that aren’t by Americans.”

    Everyone knows that The Booker is (or was) a middlebrow ritual synchronized with the sensibilities of the ideal Guardian reader (male version: a middle class Coldplay fan who voted for Labour and claims to have participated in “The Battle of Trafalgar Square” at the Poll Tax riots of ’90; female version: the code-switched Emma Thompson). Everyone knows that the Booker runs a benign “non-White/non-English-Male” inclusivity lottery that quite often, luckily, tags worthy writers (Arundhati Roy being, IMO, one of the worthiest recipients ever).

    The last Booker-winner I had a *serious* problem with was Banville’s corny/clunky The Sea. Didn’t care much for DBC Pierre’s ill-conceived effort at “Retard Americana”, either. McEwan’s Amsterdam: meh. Life of Pi: meh. Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending… couldn’t finish it although perhaps I will try again soon (laugh). I haven’t gotten around to Marlon James’ book yet, so I have nothing to say on it.

    Having sharpened my virtual rhetorical fangs in the comment threads of the Guardian, c. 2005-2010 (as well as on the higher-brow, doctoral-candidates-haunted Valve), and having lived in London (in the 1990s), I am fully conversant with The Booker/ The Guardian, not to mention the page three feature of The Sun. So, please, Dude: enough with the entry-level Booker/Guardian-splainin. It makes you seem provincial, and this provincial pride in having access to info that you don’t realize (being a Country Mouse) is common-as-dirt, strikes me as being the key to why you’re missing my point(s), which are not contingent on The Booker/ The Guardian in any way.

    To reiterate my points:

    A) The Sellout is a piss-poor piece of writing.
    B) Either no one cares or they actually *like* piss-poor writing.

    I know why the average Liberal White doesn’t care (or actually likes “authentically” bad writing from Black writers).

    But why don’t *you* care?

    Now, I’ve read one book by Kiese Laymon, the writer you recommend as “hope and a good contrast”. The book of Laymon’s I’ve read (full disclosure: I read about 75% of it) is called Long Division. It’s conceptually ambitious (which makes it better than The Sellout) but… sorry… poorly-executed. Which, admittedly, is a beef I had with lots of “Golden Age” pulp Sci Fi, especially when I tried to re-read it as an adult. But one problem with younger, TV-fed writers is that the material tends to come out as a thinly-fleshed scenario (aka a teleplay), too thin… I liked it better when pre-writers read books, voraciously, for years, before attempting to write; now the standard preparation is binge-watching a box set or two. Again: meh.

    To cite a passage that won’t give any twists away:

    ****…I didn’t have a girlfriend from kindergarten all the way through the first half of ninth grade and it wasn’t because the whole high school heard Principal Jankins whispering to his wife, Ms. Dawsin-Jankins, that my hairline was shaped like the top of a Smurf house. I never had a girlfriend because I loved this funky
    girl named Shalaya Crump. The last time Shalaya Crump and I really talked, she told me, “City, I could love you if you helped me change the future dot-dot-dot in a special way.”

    Shalaya Crump was always saying stuff like that, stuff you’d only imagine kids saying in a dream or on those R-rated movies on HBO starring spoiled teenagers. If any other girl in 1985 said, “the future dotdot-dot,” she would have meant 1986 or maybe 1990 at the most. But not Shalaya Crump. I knew she
    meant somewhere way in the future that no one other than scientists and dope fiends had ever thought of before.

    Shalaya Crump lived down in Melahatchie, Mississippi across the road from Mama Lara’s house. A year ago, she convinced me that plenty of high school girls would like me even though my hips were way wider than a JET centerfold’s, and the smell of deodorant made me throw up. The thing was that none of
    the ninth-grade girls who liked me wore fake Air Jordans with low socks, or knew how to be funny in church while everyone else was praying, or had those sleepy, sunken eyes like Shalaya Crump. Plus, you never really knew what Shalaya Crump was going to say and she always looked like she knew more than
    everybody around her, even more than the rickety grown folks who wanted other rickety grown folks to think they knew more than Yoda.

    It’s hard to ever really know why you love a girl, but all I know is that Shalaya Crump made me feel like it was okay not to know everything. You could feel good around Shalaya Crump just by knowing enough to get by. That’s what I loved about her most. Sometimes, she asked these hard questions about the
    future but she didn’t treat you like chunky vomit when you didn’t get the answer right. It’s hard to explain if you never been around a girl like that. It’s just that no other girl in my whole life made me feel like it was okay not to know stuff like Shalaya Crump did. The worst part of it is that even after all we went through yesterday, I still have no proof that I ever made Shalaya Crump feel anything
    other than guilty for leaving me with Baize Shephard. I’m not just saying that to sound like something you’d read by a broken-hearted white boy from New York City in a dumb novel in tenth-grade English. If you want me to be honest, everything I’m telling you is only half of what made the story of Shalaya
    Crump, Baize Shephard, Jewish Evan Altshuler, and me the saddest story in the history of Mississippi.

    And it’s really hard to have the saddest story in the history of a state like Mississippi, where there are even more sad stories than there are hungry mosquitoes and sticker bushes.


    When you recommend a writer who writes this sort of shaky, shruggy, obvious, mawkish and essentially “LITE” YA material, you absolutely and *fatally* undermine your authority in a debate about Literature.

    I wonder if you even get the fact that LITTRACHA which is worthy of the term works on a level above/below the obvious narrative?

    In other words: do you understand how HARD engineering a good or great novel is?

    Every great novel is both a story (or stories) plus the story of the language telling the story, welded together by the psycho-sensual tech that forces the reader into the ongoing dialogue between the two. Which is why calling it “The Spooky Art” is not hyperbole. But there’s nothing “spooky” about the banal act of relating a narrative. “This character did that or had that happen to her/him and as a result this happened.” Any cruise ship’s stand up comedian does that. Any casual cruise ship audience will chuckle warmly at the casual effort. So?

    That’s where Literature and Storytelling had a structural parting of the ways (and where “postmodernism” sometimes takes this parting too far, deliciously): what the Griot/ Bard/ Sermonizer/ Stand-Up achieved with the extra-literary tools of charisma, spectacle of a gathering and the drama of the event, the Good or Great Novelist achieves with nuanced use of the language and buried inferences and allusive rhetorical triggers, and so on, which are far more layered/interleaved than the simple conversational narratives of Laymon’s Long Division or Beatty’s The Sellout or James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces.

    Even Beatty’s enraptured reviewers quite often (counter-intuitively) nailed the fact that Beatty is all about “telling” and not quite up to “showing” (or projecting sensations). Which is the difference between, for example, merely stating that a character is “homesick” … or having the character smell his/her favorite dish and free-associate, for a page, in a way that triggers the reader’s own sense-memories of Home. The former is the common approach; the latter is Literature.

    Literature is the ongoing dialogue between Great Writers and Great Readers: it’s your responsibility too, in other words.

    Writers who can’t really write writing for Readers reading at basic proficiency: that’s not the grand, consciousness-enriching Conversation of Literature… it’s a Dystopian Nightmare and the end result of decades of deliberate Down-Dumbing. It’s Dystopian Nightmare as Policy. I’m sure there’s a Department for it. Or a Ministry. Soon to be an App.

    Promote this Dystopian Nightmare all you want, man… feel free and good luck and all that.

    I’m more than happy to oppose it.

  22. @Steve Augustine, aka “The Iron Sheik”

    “Washington/ NATO/ The West”

    See, there’s just no way I can let that sit there unmolested, right?

    Out here in my province (thanks, bigwetkiss, for saving me from having to look up how to spell that), we get real ornery when big city types start conflating housewives from, say, Cedar Rapids (a midsize town in the State of Iowa where conflation is punishable by the lash) with Milton Friedman in Chile or Donald Rumsfeld in Abu Ghraib. I know there’s folks about who’ll insist it’s morally defensible to paint them all with the same brush, but to me, life is already complex enough without getting all those non-overlapping magisteria scrambled up in my head.

    Family is Family, true enough, but Genus is Genus and Species Species. I, kind sir, am not Monsanto or the USDoD. You will have to work much harder than that if you want to get a country boy from the USSR to start believing in all that one-size-fits-all guilt.

    Il’ja, aka Nikolai Volkoff

  23. @Nik!

    It goes without saying that the Corporate Lords (and not the Serfs) are the target(s) of my geopolitical animadversions. Nation States are so 19th century, aren’t they? They only linger on in the minds of, say, the Cedar Rapids MILFs you conjure, who think they’re “American”, which is purely, for my purposes, a term of rhetorical convenience. By copy/pasting “Washington/ Nato/ The West” I’m trying to finger a loosely-affiliated team of WASPy cui-bono-istas operating too many parallel hot wars and cold wars to keep track of. At no point do I blame the MILFs (except to the extent that they unwittingly condone the kind of War Crimes that had Nazties swinging at Nuremburgerville).

    If we but had the proper venue, we’d have as well the space to nurture Zizekian mega-screeds of total accuracy! Until then, I will sorrowfully torment you with my shorthands.


    Your Chum,

    Canetti von Rezzori

  24. @Steven Augustine, aka Have You Been Peeking at My Kindle, Gregor?

    Consider me tormented.

    Unfortunately for you, I think what could have floated as a plausible defense pre-Nuremberg, pre-internet is captured in the adverb – “unwittingly”: That’s about the shape of things. I watch with – honestly – admiration as Vlad’s minions hog the Memory Hole of western society, and see some smart folks say some dumb things, and some dumb folks uncork some positive headscratchers and I become convinced that perspicuity matters. Leave the shorthand to your amanuensis.

    The midwestern gals I’m conjuring up here are some solid individuals, and given the juggling act they’ve got to perform daily just to keep Hamburger Helper on the table, not to mention the volume and frequency of the lies they’re hearing, I have an impossible time branding them as collaborationist re Mosul, Aleppo, Flint, any of it.

    There’s plenty of guilt to go around, plenty of karma to boomerang, but “the west”? C’mon, Gregor, you mooching for a Booker Prize with a line that stale?

  25. @il’ja

    West, Schmest! It’s a matter of Synecdoche: “The West” could very well mean 130,686 people. Maybe you can narrow it to 56, if you like. Maybe it’s just Dick, Don, some Germans (in Argentina) and the Hungarian? Let’s not get hung up on taxonomies. All we can say, for certain, is that a Naughty Super Power is at work. Very naughty. Very power. And it’s wet, wet work.

    But, re: The MILFs… Hell’s belles, man… I’m not seriously including them in a projected per capita culpability quotient for wetted sands! (Though I am picturing them as an infinite assembly-line photo-opp of chesty Andrews Sisters in mid-salute…)

    We LOVE the cornfed MILFs. No: my ire-target is clearly the bloodfed FILKs!

    ‘Nuff sed,

    Your chum down North,

    Dr. Destouches Bemelmans-Albright

    PS Gazprom appears to be approaching something like detente with the EU. Time for the Hungarian to press that refugee button again…

  26. “Gazprom appears to be approaching something like detente with the EU.”

    I need a preliminary summary for sanity’s sake. I hear on the NYTimes book podcast that sales of Beatty’s book have gone galactic since the Booker announcement. Other than the endless fascination provided by the phenomenon that is the “Booker Bump”, the conclusion is as obvious as it is sinister:

    The bi-weekly midday kaffeeklatsch at the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Barnes & Noble is actually a sleeper cell of the dark heart of the Military Industrial Complex. And Paul Beatty’s in on it!

    Or, to cite the goddess Maha Shakti: On the other hand, when the Nobel picks Bobby Zimmerman and the Booker Paul Beatty, maybe your Superpower doesn’t amount to much more than a punchline to a bad joke that everybody but you seems to get.

    Me, if I ran that thing, I’d give the Booker to James Kelman *again* for “How Late It Was, How Late.” Now that was some bold post-structural, end-of-history, late-capitalist prize-giving.

  27. il’ja

    Well, hell, if we’re giving The Booker or the Nobel or the MacArthur Genius or The Pulitzer or the National Book Award to just about anyone who ever had a navel and a keyboard, my vote obviously goes to Richard Bach, who did so much to raise awareness about melancholy seagulls.

    But all those previously mentioned prizes are catspit compared to the mighty “Millions Poet” award, which is a cool Mil (plus change) for a single mu-fuh POME! Hosted by the UAE (of course). My certain-to-win (I’m a Writer of Color) entry as follows:


    here’s my joint
    of doggerel verse
    you think this sucks
    it could be worse
    i could be armed and in
    your hood (did you catch the enjambment?),
    instead i’ll churn
    the same old book (off-rhyme!)
    that darkies beez
    allowed to write
    which ain’t evolved since
    Richard Wright (homophone rhyme!)
    watermelon, watermelon, KFC (satire!)
    reefer, Jesus, mono-


  28. @steven augustine

    To return to your earlier points:

    “A genuinely hilarious and affirmatively-active nod”

    So this level of quality is par for the course, not affirmative action, which is the broad and disparaging claim that you made that, intended or not, reinforces the idea that black authors are not awarded on merit, unlike their peers.

    “The Booker had to jump over dozens (if not hundreds) of better (or at least capable) writers to pick Beatty… ”

    The above statement is the reason why it was pointed out to you that there were time-based criteria for the prize. It is the central point you evaded, thus enabling you to make the comment below re: my provincialism and my patronizing attitude. It was never argued that PB writes “good” prose, which is the straw man you constructed.

    “It makes you seem provincial, and this provincial pride in having access to info that you don’t realize (being a Country Mouse) is common-as-dirt”

    I think u r very authentic & open on the internet, but not everyone else is. Had I realized it was necessary, in order to obtain a response to the above point re: better choices, to represent the full spectrum of my literary tastes and knowledge, foreign language abilities, experience overseas, other publications read, awareness of global systems, evidence of “polymathy,” etc, in longwinded digressions filled with winking gestures, I would not have posted at all, since PB is just OK, ha ha funny, and online comments are even less literary than his books. But holding POC to higher standards than their peers was my issue of contention, as it is often more damaging coming from another POC because it goes unquestioned. And that is what you did.

    “Literature is the ongoing dialogue between Great Writers and Great Readers: it’s your responsibility too, in other words.”

    U assume too much. Literary production has a responsibility to the concrete problems of 1) Will The Publisher Able To Break Even On This? 2) Well Then, How Can I Get More People To Like It? 3) Who Deserves Prize Money This Year? 4) Should I Write For An Audience?

    But this is probably not the forum to discuss practice vs theory. After all, why is Steven Augustine not the contemporary fiction writer that he and others would like to see exist? Is it not because he is satisfied with occupying the safe space of a negator?

  29. @BWK

    “After all, why is Steven Augustine not the contemporary fiction writer that he and others would like to see exist? Is it not because he is satisfied with occupying the safe space of a negator?”

    Steven Augustine is proud of his output; 80,000+ people have visited his various fiction sites, and read his material, since 2006 (not huge numbers but pretty good for Lit sites and better than most paper-published writers, who sell books in the hundreds or even dozens): he has five or six books online (on his sites) and quite a few shorts and is slowly wrapping up a nine-novel project he started way back in 2004. He earns his money in music and his fiction, therefore, isn’t constrained by the interpersonal politics, or the ever-lowering LCD, of Paper Publishing.

    Steven Augustine thinks that the rigorously self-editing “Gifted Amateur”, distributing his/her material online, is the only way to preserve the quality of Lit in the age of Pathological Capitalism, since greed-based Paper Publishing seems intent on grinding Lit into the dirt. Money has never been the motivator for doing *anything* worthy in (or with) Life.

    And you are certainly free, Dear BWK, to make all the excuses you want to for the hyped up megatons of crappy, pointless, talent-free writing out there… or your crappy taste for it. It’s a “free” country, Baby! With standards as low as yours, every day must be a Golden Age! Laugh. Beautiful.

    I have nothing left to say on the matter.

    I’ll stop before boredom-gangrene takes over in this thread (though you can still probably rouse me from the stupefaction this thread has induced if you finally manage to come up with a really good zinger),


    PS after this penultimate comment I’m going to drop a link to one of my fave (of my) sci fi social commentary shorts (imagine a future of global warming, Black near-extinction and spell-casting Gypsies… I don’t believe in any of that but I use the scenario to conjure a tale). We’ll see if the link makes it through moderation!

  30. Steven, ugh, if you aren’t too sick of this: my brain doesn’t work as fast as yours, or il’ja’s or the horribly named Bigwetkiss (you seriously need to change that handle dear man) but I have to say I LOVED “The Sea”. Rather than clunky, I found the prose thoughtful and deliberate. So I am super mad at you for that!! (hah)! But for black writers, please do tell me who you think are successful and deserving of admiration (and not the condension you think they are receiving). I wonder what you think of Whitehead (Zone 1 was decent, I think the guy can write) and the author (name escapes me) who wrote “Loving Day” and “Pym”. Oh and the prolific Percival Everett. I read Soyinka probably before I was old enough to understand him, but it was still opened a door to a culture I will never observe, much less live. And Thiong’o who kills me. Jackie Kay, brilliant Scottish writer, no? And the Uwe Timm who wrote “Morenga”. Zakes Mda as well, although I find him difficult. I know this thread may be getting tedious, but the point (for me) of literature is to enter another’s existence, which may be impossible, it may be truly impossible to empathise, and to situate ones self in another country, but one must try. Please no need to answer, it is highly possible we have beaten this one to death.

  31. Excuse grammar, the word “was” doesn’t belong in sentence re Soyinka. Typing too fast with my index finger on my tiny phone.

  32. @il’ja

    Thanks for acknowledging me, il’ja, so we can look at a real example of affirmative action in the literary world. I’m sure your polymath mind can handle a little polysemy, but you can’t resist leaping in and pretending I misused a word. You’re a staff writer at The Millions, very professional of you.

    There’s always a post set aside for the token FSU expert who can be deployed to help ensure that literate Americans become passive supporters of imperialism who are completely unable to wrap their heads around criticism of U.S. foreign policy. You’re part of a long tradition of state ideology in literature – you just didn’t get the gig at one of the more lucrative or prestigious publications. Your inclusion here is designed to make everyone feel good about American hegemony, to make it seem compatible with Bernie and to write with affectation, as most people are superficial enough to see the signifiers and buy in. You don’t have to experience firsthand the inherent downsides, unlike those who actually live in this crumbling country. Your job is tell us “Look over here! The alternatives are WORSE.”

    Your job wasn’t awarded to a writer with the skills to navigate the hugely relevant Arabic-speaking world or who can cover works from the Global South because it is more important for the edification of the American public that last century’s Cold War be continued using funds earmarked for Literature. U.S. media doesn’t suddenly commit to sustained coverage of *every* region, or even most, or even any, just because a Nobel was awarded to a writer from that region. But is your field of expertise *really* the one that most deserved a platform, among these and other competing issues, in this day and age? With ideological opposition to the state marginalized far beyond the reaches of sites like this, will your contributions lead to a greater opening of the American mind, with its perpetual failure to understand the costs of interventionism? Are you able to accurately assess, from where you are, whether you have perpetuated narrow-mindedness in more ways than you have solved it?

    That Khaled Hosseini and Amy Tan are practically the only non-white writers you have ever reviewed on Goodreads (not bad ratings, in fact, for someone who scoffs at Beatty) speaks volumes about your credibility on this thread. You demonstrate no ability to recognize when authors are pandering to white audiences, though this information offers insight into why you might project inferiority onto certain races.

    Your dispatches from the white-hot center of global literary debate that is the Russian border show that it still pays to produce the same tired narrative of an action hero entering into a war zone – bombs going off in the background! we’re protecting jazz/freedom here! – year after year. And the naive buy it, feel “more educated” afterward, and assent one more time. The West has its system of censorship too, and they’re putting your brains to good use. Your real job is to help readers who don’t like to do a lot of homework rationalize the military spending that has allowed for brutal inequality back home (mocking the country grammar of the spurned, even off the clock!), and you’ll gladly accept the special treatment. It’ll keep your fat belly fat.

  33. @Heather Curran

    I picked my handle knowing it would rouse disgust and I apologize for that much.

    @steven augustine

    When I asked you to name names of better writers, you should have just named YOURSELF. Then we would have all shared a big laugh and headed straight to your website.

    But you know I’m playing y’all, right?

  34. @BWK

    Dude, I’m sure I deserve the full force of your ire (I know I’m a swine) but il’ja doesn’t, in any shape or form…. you’ve totally misread him. If you’re referring to his jape, re: the word “province,” upthread, he was being self-deprecating and friendly, not catty. And very early in this (and a previous) thread he came to Beatty’s defense (almost exactly as tepidly as you did! wink).

    So: this is just a BIG misunderstanding and we shouldn’t let it escalate. I’m the asshole, here; you seem like a good guy and il’ja is pretty much of a pussy cat. And there seem to be corners at which we *all* overlap (eg: you and I seem to agree on the Hegemony thing, and you and il’ja seem to agree about taking it easy on writers who trigger my evil sneer… and aren’t we all jazz-heads, more or less…?)

  35. What happened here, BWK? There I was, trotting along, happily looking up stochastic (and polysemy) and enjoying your vision of Murakami vs. Dylan vs. the Ikea catalogue when Poof! . . .All the giddy & brilliant prolixity of this thread vanished.

    Because it’s a literary discussion, not the Trial at Nuremberg. And Steve is quite good-naturedly right — you do all overlap at certain points. The ad hominem attacks just weaken whatever justifiable points you make – cause, yes, the US has a lot to answer for, no arguments there.

    But if all you got from Il’ja is some imagined pro-reactionary stance, then, boy, you need to actually read him. He’s kind of the standard-bearer for old-school truly liberal thinking — the kind that values the individual over the state since he’s had too much experience with the opposite dynamic. That he eschews ideological dog whistles designed to circumvent thinking doesn’t make him an actual running-dog lackey for American hegemony. It just means he’s thinking it through for himself. And that’s why I read him.

    Wait, he said it far more elegantly up-thread:

    “There is something kind of petty about a default setting of contempt toward American involvement in, well, anything. I don’t adopt this view as some wild-eyed patriot, but because I have a real distaste for categorical thinking of any stripe. You might say I’m categorically opposed to categories.” Because political shorthand — on either end of the spectrum — hampers one’s thinking.

    And seriously? “Projecting inferiority onto other races?” Really at sea with this. I was actually listening to you, BWK, before the great sea change occurred. But, as I always say (mostly to rein myself in): Bitter is not pretty.

    ‘K, done lecturing.

  36. @priskill

    I meant that those authors are problematic and their influence is not necessarily good, not that il’ja has behaved in a way that implies that he views certain races as inferior. I didn’t realize it sounded that angry…

    @steven augustine

    The way I interpreted il’ja’s words was prompted by your heckling over that word. It won’t turn into a shoving match if you don’t do that. If you’re right and il’ja’s not trying to be an asshole (thanks for owning up to your part), I’ll eat my words.

    I read a story you wrote, and I have feedback that’s…not pretty, but it is concrete. It’s your choice to you want to hear it or not. Just my opinion. In fact, your story inspired me to pick a random passage from The Sellout and unpack it a little. And I’ll leave it for you guys to end on a positive note:

    1) Family lore has it that from ages one to four, he’d tied my right hand behind my back so I’d grow up to be left-handed, right-brained, and well-centered.

    The rhyme of “lore and “four” gives the first clause a nursery-rhyme quality that echoes the meaning of “family lore” as a story that a child is told. Then “left-handed,” “right-brained,” and “well-centered” create a tripartite symmetry in referring to directions. This is powerful on a subconscious level because “handed,” “brained,” and “well” also correspond respectively to the concepts of the physical, mental, and spiritual–in other words, the whole of man.

    2) I was eight when my father wanted to test the “bystander effect” as it applies to the “black community.”

    The first set of scare quotes on a familiar and established psychological term (“bystander effect”) compounds the ironic use of the second set (“black community”), which points to its currency as a hollow euphemism and foreshadows its even more pathos-inducing definition as “loving race” three sentences later.

    3) He replicated the infamous Kitty Genovese case with a prepubescent me standing in for the ill-fated Ms. Genovese, who, in 1964, was robbed, raped, and stabbed to death in the apathetic streets of New York, her plaintive Psychology 101 textbook cries for help ignored by dozens of onlookers and neighborhood residents.

    Factual sentence – deadpan except when you look at the four adjectives and the way they completely change the tone by moving from neutral objectivity (“infamous…case”) to an image of innocence (“prepubescent me”) to a personified image of cold, hard reality (“apathetic streets”) back to neutral objectivity (“plaintive Psychology 101 textbook cries”).

    4) Hence, the “bystander effect”: the more people around to provide help, the less likely one is to receive help. Dad hypothesized that this didn’t apply to black people, a loving race whose very survival has been dependent on helping one another in times of need.

    The sheer pathos of this last bit (“black people, a loving race whose very survival has been dependent on helping one another in times of need”) was foreshadowed by “black community.” As a result, we all know something very bad is coming next…

    5) So he made me stand on the busiest intersection in the neighborhood, dollar bills bursting from my pockets, the latest and shiniest electronic gadgetry jammed into my ear canals, a hip-hop heavy gold chain hanging from my neck, and, inexplicably, a set of custom-made carpeted Honda Civic floor mats draped over my forearm like a waiter’s towel, and as tears streamed from my eyes, my own father mugged me.

    This long sentence starts with hyperbole (“bursting from my pockets” “jammed into my ear canals”) that conjures notions of physical discomfort, foreshadowing the act of violence that is to come. But then it moves to an object that is used as a symbol of exaggerated wealth (“hip-hop heavy gold chain”), which has a comic effect. This progresses to absurdity (“custom-made carpeted Honda Civic floor mats”). They allude respectively to the shallow obsession with one’s bling followed by the borderline sick obsession with dropping money on one’s wheels.

    The above are tight sentences that only a poet would write.

  37. @HWK

    Fabulous, man! Let relatively convivial peace reign again in this thread. Literature itself isn’t “just entertainment”… but literature’s comment threads surely are.

  38. BWK:

    All this because of a prize.

    And yet, because the world is a hard place, because empathy is at a premium, the books and their readers matter all the more. Particularly toward those who might not look like us, live where we live, or share our priorities or worldview. A mode of engagement that forgoes contempt, invective, and mendacity is obligatory if we hope to keep the dialogue going.

    But you’re understandably tired of reading me, so read you. Go back, look at your posts, ask yourself if you’ve managed any of the above. May I quote you? In this brief space you’ve found cause to indict

    Steven for working “to keep it provincial and…ignorant”
    The Millions for “continuing the Cold War”
    The Millions readership as “narrow-minded”
    The United States”, for being “the United States”
    “Most people” as “superficial”
    Eastern Europe, for not being the “hugely relevant Arabic-speaking world” and
    Me, for a list of reasons too long to print.

    Is there anybody you don’t despise?

    The Millions is a rare outlet in the literary space. It welcomes all comers. It’s a place that extends a chance to us to be taken seriously, but you make it so damn hard with your ill will. Don’t shit on this. Repeating myself here, but all this because of a prize, BWK.

    Good luck to you, and fair warning: you’re probably not gonna like my next article for “The Millions” much.

  39. @BWK Fair enough and thanks for the clarification. Not sure I agree with your assessment of Amy Tan but that’s cool.

  40. @priskill

    I don’t think I’d call it “lecturing”… you were defending your friend against an unfair and (what became a) fairly mean-spirited attack. I think HWK is big enough to admit that and I should hope he wouldn’t expect to be handled with kidskin gloves, now, just because we’ve all gotten jolly (laugh) again.

  41. @steven augustine

    Why don’t you go over and explain to il’ja? Based on his reaction, he either:

    1) did not see my apology
    2) did not understand why I believed I was being taunted by 2 different people over this word “provincial,” which was part of your mean-spirited attack in which you did some name-calling yourself (“Country Mouse”), or
    3) really did mean it in an insulting way.

    Is it not clear why I thought il’ja was using this word in the same sense as well? Don’t let him go away mad. You’re the only one who can make peace here.

  42. @HWK

    “Is it not clear why I thought il’ja was using this word in the same sense as well? Don’t let him go away mad.”

    To be honest, no. And it calls into question your ability to close-read a text… likewise when you cited my list of American authors, upthread, as writers I supposedly thought deserved the Booker instead of PB; I wrote no such thing and il’ja did not come *close* to insulting you, man. Again: he was being *friendly* towards you and that is as utterly clear now as it was then.

    “You’re the only one who can make peace here.”

    I’m flattered, HWK… but this is getting silly! (Plus, after my experience at Camp David, I have to respectfully turn down your request).

    I really have to go make an unsophisticated chili for my Daughter now…



  43. “Only after reading your stories did I understand that it was pointless to argue.”

    If you were a famous, bald, sweater-wearing Anglican book reviewer, that would make an excellent blurb.

  44. “If you were a famous, bald, sweater-wearing Anglican book reviewer, that would make an excellent blurb.”

    Why are you so embarrassed of me? You won’t even type my name, man… Do you know how that makes me feel?

  45. @Steve, I second BWK — we should be sending you over to the Middle-east instead of drones and hardware. Your daughter is lucky!

    @BWK, it’s been a long time . . . I think Amy Tan writes about real people leading rich, miserable, wonderful lives. And I won’t lie — her take on mother/daughter dynamics was so spot on in much of her early work that this cold fish got misty. As a young mom/ old daughter in the 90’s, reading Kitchen God’s Wife hit me in the sweet spot of guilt, love, resentment, love, love, and, yes, love. Going in all generational directions.

    Is she politically correct enough? Does she write correctly about “Asian Issues?” Geez, I dunno. I rather think not, since I enjoyed her so much. She creates living, breathing characters whose woeful dilemmas are universal, in all their brilliant cultural specificity. Also, she is funny.

    Clearly, I had a very visceral response to her work, and can’t offer a line-by-line exegesis, such as you offered for PW. But unlike most of the forgettable stuff I read this stays with me. Maybe PW is your Tan?

    All right, let peace break out!

  46. @BWK

    Hey, big wet. I’ll admit it, you got me for about 24 hours there. I even had to find my Goodreads password to see if that whole “Amy Tan & Khaled Hosseini” thing was true. (You clearly pay much greater attention to race than I do.)

    The problem is, BigWet, you lied. You just made that up. Yeah, I had to check, though I have to thank you for reminding of my Goodreads account’s existence. But on the very first page of my “Books Read”, 6 out of the 16 authors there are – what did you call them? – non-white. That’s just the first page, BigWet. When you keep clicking – men, women, Native Americans, people from Texas – all kinds! Clearly I need to read more. It does raise an interesting question: what’s your list like BigWet? Mind sharing it?

    But this still bugs me: when you typed “practically the only non-white writers” on my list, that was intentional, wasn’t it?

    And when you dismissed the relevance of Ukrainian deaths in the war here, that was also int

  47. @BWK

    These keyboards sure are gimmicky!

    But back to the dead in eastern Ukraine, the country’s massive refugee crisis, the failure of the state, and the implications of a Russian invasion for free societies – your personal disregard (yes, *even I* caught your sarcasm) for the region and its people – is that a standard opinion where you live? Or maybe you were speaking for the whole world? (Quite a trick if you can pull it off!)

    And a brief question related to “your” parsing of Paul Beatty up there. Does it remind you of anything you’ve read elsewhere? Interesting.

    Anyway, it’s been fun being trolled, or whatever the current term is. You don’t need to apologize to me, it would be an undue burden on this forum to demand something of you of which you’ve repeatedly shown you’re incapable.

    But priskill and Steven have been their usual cordial, decent, and engaging selves – sometimes feisty, but never unkind. And you’re abusing their good nature, and that of the Millions’ readers. Here, be true to your professed love of literature, and leave the trolling for the Guardian.

  48. @il’ja

    “But priskill and Steven have been their usual cordial, decent, and engaging selves – sometimes feisty, but never unkind.”

    “It makes you seem provincial, and this provincial pride in having access to info that you don’t realize (being a Country Mouse) is common-as-dirt,” – steven augustine

    Is the above an example of Steven being “cordial, decent, and engaging” toward me? This was a reply to me bringing up the dates that books needed to be published between in order to qualify for the prize.

    But think, for a moment, about how you lumped together those two very different personalities using gleaming generalizations (even Steven himself admitted, “I’m the asshole, here”) and me as someone who is “abusing their good nature.” You uphold the ideals of a free society, but like the voice of power in the New Totalitarian State, your words characterized the behavior of dissenters and outsiders as transgressive, and minimized the initial aggressions of members of your in-group. My accusations were harsh, perhaps – but come on. He hit me first. And it’s over now.

    This fighting is really not about the book, but about class distinctions. Calling anyone a “country mouse” is going to start a fistfight, in boarding school or on the playground. Don’t piggyback on these kinds of insults and make it two against one, then say later: “But you ‘re the one who took it too far and ruined the atmosphere.” Again, if you work here, take some responsibility for your “spelling problems” and don’t lecture. Even if Steven abhors the capitalist system and tries to valorize the proletariat in his writing, he likes to maintain class distinctions too in real life. He thinks I’m a Country Mouse, and I think he’s a Country Mouse Who Lives in a Glass House.

    “(You clearly pay much greater attention to race than I do.)”

    Because race, to a large degree, imparts birthright.

    “But this still bugs me: when you typed “practically the only non-white writers” on my list, that was intentional, wasn’t it?”

    That statement doesn’t describe the full extent that non-white writers fit into your overall reading habits. It didn’t refer to writers of literary fiction, which I believe is your main interest.

    Amy Tan & Khaled Hosseini exemplify a type of U.S.-based English-language writer who becomes a major window through which U.S. readers perceive a culture of a less developed nation. Those two are relevant to our discussion of Beatty, in that under literary classification that partially derives its logic from a racialized nation-state system, they fall into a category of subaltern writing that occupies the gray space between commercial and artistic production. That is the type that is referred to by “practically the only non-white writers”: not writers in all languages or Anglophone writers outside the U.S., or writers of literary fiction, but domestic writers whose identities are defined vis-à-vis whiteness and have mass appeal. Hosseini is specially aligned with U.S. policy interests, but in general, a writer’s émigré status feeds into reader consumption of immigrant narratives as critiques of foreign states.

    “But back to the dead in eastern Ukraine, the country’s massive refugee crisis, the failure of the state, and the implications of a Russian invasion for free societies – your personal disregard ”

    It’s not “personal disregard” – I rely on other sources of commentary. There is no shortage of news, analysis, and features, and the subject has not faded. The question is how this region is essential to the U.S. postwar literary tradition. Does it not serve a fundamentally ideological purpose? And shouldn’t we ask ourselves, where are our biggest blind spots of all?

    Back in the U.S., we have our own crises in which intellectual institutions are a key part of the economic inequality problem. Cafeteria workers at Harvard just ended a strike to bargain for a living wage. One employee, who has worked there 17 years, ended up in public housing because she couldn’t afford her rent on her wages. Meanwhile, 7 out of 10 non-teaching staff in the 10-campus University of California system have problems affording food. 1 in 10 students in the 23-campus Cal State system is homeless. This dystopian nightmare is real in the year 2016. I’m not poking fun at your physique here – I’m saying people are *literally starving* while supporting America’s system for shaping intellectual ambition and class mobility.

    Maybe your responsibility is nowhere near that level, but cheering on progress and ever-loftier goals requires overoptimism. There’s a human cost to being competitive. I think I can say at the very least, there is a strong moral imperative for you to weigh the costs by reading more broadly on a global scale.

    “And a brief question related to “your” parsing of Paul Beatty up there. Does it remind you of anything you’ve read elsewhere?”

    Never read reviews of the book and have no idea if it sounds derivative. The writing isn’t complex enough that it is open to many interpretations. In fact, his prose has a very “teachable” quality that makes it highly desirable in a secondary-school context. That’s the charm: It can be used as a learning tool for basic composition, especially for kids who struggle to focus and need a bit of entertainment. My prediction is that the Booker imprimatur will help it gain approval from school boards and libraries.

    “what’s your list like BigWet? Mind sharing it?”

    I don’t log books on Goodreads. If you really care, I can make you a list of classic/thought-provoking books from around the world that are not already on your list.

    It’s much easier to judge a book’s quality years or decades later, and I thought that was the point of the discussion. Honestly can’t wait to get out of here like it’s summer vacation – but I will leave you with a few titles (none of them lite or overhyped) published within the past 12 months, all by Americans, worth a closer look:

    Hystopia – David Means (IMO the most interesting contender on the Booker longlist)
    Square Wave – Mark de Silva (ambitious debut; heady prose may not be digestible to everyone)
    The Border of Paradise – Esmé Weijun Wang (another debut; she has a career ahead of her)
    Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1996-2015 – Kevin Young (worth sharing since novels get all the attention)

  49. @BWK

    Use your CTRL + F search-function to locate the first instance of the word “provincial”, in this thread, and get back to us.

    PS After removing the egg from your face, be sure to tie yourself in rhetorical knots asserting that your use of the word wasn’t “insulting”.

  50. You know what? I probably was too young when I read Ake, by Soyinka, to understand its political prescience, also probably too young when i read Cancer Ward, by Solentyzhin (agh spelling) but seriously I think my time is better spent reading that which I struggle to understand rather than reading a discussion group that is way over my head. My reading is self-directed, undisciplined, and completely care free and joyeous. So: yay me?

  51. @Heather

    Nothing in this thread is over your head. It’s just that the thread has gone so far off piste, now, that it’s pointless. I only got sucked back into it when BWK (after misreading a harmless sentence: perfect) took his nasty shots at il’ja, the most good-natured (and learned) writer on this site.

    If anyone wants to read a proper “exegesis” of a text, il’ja is your go-to Exegete (and in a literal sense: he wasn’t in a monastery for the chuckles). So, the injustice of the attack on him rankled on both levels. Otherwise: no way would I have jumped back into this mess.


    Reading anything when you’re “too young”, the first time, is the best way to start! I sneaked a look, as a ten-year-old, through my grandmother’s copy of Lawrence’s “Women in Love”, once, and I was mystified! The first of many inspiring mystifications! The funny thing: my grandfather caught me doing it and called my grandmother from the kitchen! I wish I could remember what happened next (beyond the ensuing 47 years of reading) but I’m sure it must have been funny.

  52. Oh hey I thought we could talk about the impending collapse of the world order over some Popeyes last night, but I heard y’all were at a party..

  53. A Buffoon ran against a War Criminal and the Buffoon won. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même bullshit.

    I had an old friend call from the US in tears. I calmed her down and then asked her to tell me what she knew about HRC’s record. She was astonished to admit that she knew nothing about HRC’s record. In other words: the ideal voter. Was this the first American Presidential election in history based entirely on genital-configuration? And, what’s the difference between a really tiny tee-tee and a clitoris, anyway… ?

    As the old Chinese adage goes: “Heads of the Coca Cola company may come and go, but the fluids in those bottles remains sticky, brown and fizzy forever. And the share holders are the real Heads, in any case. Don’t you know anything?”

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