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Monday, November 22, 2004

National Book Award Controversy: The Pleasures of Obscurity

What happens if you wrote a book and nobody read it? Well at least you can hope for a National Book Award. Being obscure is not necessarily a bad thing, as the folks who run this book award charged the judges in this competition to vote on books that they liked, the public and mass market be damned. To which I say, good show! Nonetheless, because the nominees and eventual winner probably had a collective readership of only a few thousand, a controversy has swirled as to whether books that have a marginal readership deserve a national accolade, when we have all sorts of swell books that have millions of readers that deserve equal time in the limelight (hear that Steven King?).

In my opinion, this is all totally beside the point, because it's the tiny audiences that really count. If you think about it, nearly all of the artistic and literary creations we treasure were written for audiences that wouldn't fill a high school gymnasium. Famous dramatists from Euripedes to Shakespeare wrote their plays for a local civic population no larger than a mid sized town, and musicians like Mozart and Schubert composed for provincial audiences who were equally small, and even indifferent! The point is, genius demands but a small audience, as world wide fame only helps pay the bills. Problematically, people are not in the habit of giving small audiences to creative minds, and would rather turn the dial on the TV than turn the page on someone's book or discuss with interest their latest brainchild. Thus, because we too often have no audience to inspire us, inspiration fades. Of course, in the whole wide world, there are always a few hundred folks who will want to hear what you say, no matter how daft. Which brings us to, you guessed it, the blog. The internet has fractured audiences into tiny groups, each of which can provide inspiration to genius as well as stupidity. But of course the wheat must come with the chaff, as even a Shakespeare and a Mozart had to contend with dozens of competitors who each sought the same tiny audience. The blog tethers an infinitude of tiny audiences with an infinitude of writers that they inspire. And indeed, if a million, million of us aspire to write, compose, or think because we have a tiny coterie of people clicking on us from time to time, it's better than a whole raft of National Book Awards, and who knows, a new Mozart or Shakespeare may pop out of it, as the fractious history of mankind has so amply proved.

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