December 12, 2018

Goodreads Choice Awards: An annual reminder that critics and readers don’t often agree
The Washington Post

Yes, professional critics who read widely and with discernment contribute something valuable when they curate the best books of the year. But that needn’t necessitate regarding the choices of ordinary readers with disdain. And we’d do well to remember that even the most prestigious literary awards are sometimes given to self-absorbed, desiccated books that quickly evaporate into irrelevancy. Time is ultimately the only critic whose judgment matters.

In 2003, Stephen King won a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation. He was well aware that certain august literary critics — among them, Harold Bloom — thought honoring a popular horror writer was idiotic. In his acceptance speech, King pleaded for a more capacious appreciation for the wide variety of books. “Bridges can be built between the so-called popular fiction and the so-called literary fiction,” he said, “. . . if we keep our minds and hearts open.” He went on to call out the elitism of highbrow critics with one particularly devastating question: “What do you think, you get social or academic Brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?”