Why are journalists and others complaining that Martel should not have gotten the Booker because a. she has one already and b. somebody else could have used the promotion? If she should not have gotten it--a thing I do not know, not having read the books that are finalists--that judgment should have been made on other grounds entirely.
As somebody who (with four others) carefully read 316 books this year in order to choose finalists, I just want to say that a judge's job ought to be solely and simply to choose the best books. It must have nothing to do with the personal histories of the authors. It must have nothing to do with book promotion and sales. It must have nothing to do with the trendiness of the subject. Its purposes should be clear and hard and a little cold.
The so-called sadness of writers who vanish
Yesterday I read one of those (rather frequent) articles invoking for our knowing amusement the names of now-forgotten writers, as though it is terribly sad that the poor deluded creatures wasted so much life on art. I just want to say that I think this is utterly ridiculous. Such a journalist believes that only the writer who takes home the gold ring has a life worth bothering with--never mind that the world doesn't even know who takes home the ring, according to our descendants, and that all most of us really know for certain in our age is who gets the most book promotion from publishers.
But that sort of opinion, appearing with surprising frequency, asserts a thing that is strange: that art comes before life. Patently wrong! There is no art without life. Think about it. Maybe art isn't the biggest thing in life. Maybe it is not first--maybe it should not be first.
I am engaged in a kind of life struggle to create a soul that is, despite all, beautiful and worthy. I do this only in part by building edifices of words. Somehow this increases me, readies me, steadies me. My intense joy in playing with words and telling stories is one of the things that makes me bigger on the inside.
So these forgotten writers: do we pity them? I do not. They dog-paddled or swam in the great ocean of words and art. Without them, the ocean would have been a smaller place, perhaps too small to hold great whales. Without the reaching after story and art, their lives would have been dwindled things.
Grumpy and possibly unfair, an insomniac's questions at 2:00 a.m.--
I had a lovely week of letters and comments from people in the arts and readers about A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage. As I still feel that the book is nigh-invisible, this cheerfulness was unexpected. I'm very grateful to those of you who complete my book (that one or others) by reading it. The tale is nothing at all without you.
Tiny explanation of my word-madness, somewhat like a manifesto--
I was given a gift. I did nothing to deserve it. All deserving comes simply from the degree to which I can increase the gift through fresh creation without falling under the sway of the fashionable lures and Babel-babble of my time.
This is, quite simply, a moral demand.
A call on my life is to not bury my talent in the ground but wield it, sometimes like a sword, sometimes like a song--like a thousand changing things. All this and more I strive to do in, as an editor friend wrote me this evening, my "hard-earned freedom."