08 February 2005

Speaking of Conflicts of Interest

…we have the "new" Quill Awards, sponsored by the same people who have brought us Publisher's Weekly—that paragon of journalistic integrity, sophisticated analysis, perceptive book reviews, and forward-looking suggestions (do I really need to put the <SARCASM> tag in there?). Calling PW's reviews "intellectually dishonest" would, on a typical day, give them too much credit for being intellectual at all—and that's one of their strengths. I've refrained from commenting on the Quill Awards thus far, because I was afraid that my ire would smoke too many monitors. So I'll let David Kipen do it, since he's far more generous than I would be.

The problem is not "award proliferation" or anything like that. It is not even the conflicts of interest inherent in a news source about the old-line bastion of the industry judging "quality" against an industry that, based on what it puts out year after year, doesn't really care about quality. (Note that I said the industry doesn't care, not that editors don't care.) It is instead the predetermination of realistic candidates based upon branding issues. Consider, for example, Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, one of the finest American novels of the 1990s. It would never have achieved its success if its publisher's brand had included a rocket ship, or had its publisher's imprint been a recognized publisher of science fiction. Instead, The Sparrow was originally published by Villard, the high-falutin' lit'rary imprint of its parent; and therefore, it got noticed as such. In other words, it was judged by its cover. And that says more about literary awards programs than we might wish.