Bookslut Vows to Right the Wrongs of Book Awards Past

In News by Dennis Abrams

By Dennis Abrams

Jessa Crispin

Jessa Crispin, founder of Bookslut, and, now, the Daphnes.

As Bookslut editor Jessa Crispin tells it, it’s a simple proposition: “If you look back at the books that won the Pulitzer or the National Book Award, it is always the wrong book.”

Crispin continues: “Book awards, for the most part, celebrate mediocrity. It takes decades for the reader to catch up to a genius book, it takes years away from hype, publicity teams, and favoritism to see that some books just aren’t that good.”

So to remedy that, Bookslut is launching a new book award, the Daphnes, to celebrate (or re-celebrate?) the best books of 50 years ago. As Crispin wrote, “We will write the wrongs of the 1964 National Book Awards, which ugh, decided that John Updike’s The Centaur was totally the best book of that year.” (The runners up that year were Idiots First by Bernard Malamud, The Group by Mary McCarthy, The Will by Harvey Swados, and the title that’s probably the most still read of all of them, a little book called V by Thomas Pynchon.)

A starter list of titles contending for the first Daphne have already been announced. But as Crispin noted, “We need your help, though, to flesh out the nominees for the Best Books of 1963. We have been frustrated in our efforts to find a comprehensive list of books published in 1963, most of the online lists have listed only or mostly American and British books, and there have been some conflicting publishing dates on some of our books. We are asking for fact-checkers and submissions for nominees.” Nominate additional titles by emailing Crispin at jessa@bookslut.com.

The contenders so far:

Fiction

Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar
Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis
V by Thomas Pynchon

Nonfiction

Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung
The Words by Jean Paul Sartre
Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter
American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford
Six Easy Pieces by Richard P. Feynman
Destruction of Dresden by David Irving
Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt

(The NBA winners that year were Aileen Ward for John Keats: The Making of a Poet (Arts and Letters), William H. McNeill for The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (History and Biography), and Christopher Tunnard and Boris Pushkarev for Man-Made America (Science, Philosophy and Religion))

Poetry

Flight to Africa by Austin Clarke
Burning Perch by Louis MacNeice
Reality Sandwiches by Allen Ginsberg
73 Poems by e e cummings
Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law by Adrienne Rich
All My Pretty Ones by Anne Sexton
Requiem by Anna Akhmatova
(The NBA winner that year was John Crowe Ransom for Selected Poems)

Children’s

Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey
The Dot and the Line by Norton Juster
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Mr Rabbit by Charlotte Zolotow
(The NBA did not present awards in children’s literature until 1969)

Writing in The Los Angeles Times, Carolyn Kellogg noted that “People suffering from Franzenfreude may be pleased to learn that an alternate designation of the Daphne among Bookslut editors is The Corrections – both for the award’s intent and for the 2001 National Book Award-winning novel by Jonathan Franzen.” (Or, as Bookslut’s Jessa Crispin makes clear, “We must take the word ‘Corrections’ from our oppressor, Jonathan Franzen! Reclaim its use!”)

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.