No prize makes everyone winners

24 April 2012 - 02:06 By Andrew Donaldson

Short, sharp guidance and observations from a journalist with attitude. All books available from Exclusives

IF YOU READ ONE BOOK THIS WEEK

'HARBOR Nocturne', by Joseph Wambaugh (Grove Press/Atlantic) R240

GIVEN that he was a policeman, it's perhaps unsurprising that Wambaugh has such a great ear for the tragi-comic elements of cop dialogue.

A standalone police procedural, although featuring characters from his tremendous Hollywood Station series, this is a hard tale of gangs, drugs and prostitution in LA's old waterfront district from a writer deservedly hailed as the father of the modern cop novel. Dark, sardonic, and with a redemptive love angle .

THE ISSUE

THE American publishing industry is greatly unhappy with last week's decision by the Pulitzer Prize board not to award a prize for fiction this year, for the first time in 35 years.

Amid all the fuming, however, the publishers of the three fiction finalists, Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, have all agreed that no fiction prize this year just may be a good thing for the book business.

As a spokesman for Alfred A Knopf put it: "In years past it's the Pulitzer winner that captures all the attention and all the sales. But since this year there was not a winner and there's much conversation about the finalists, this may be an opportunity and a catalyst for sales."

CRASH COURSE

SOME years back, the Berkeley academic Thomas W Laqueur hit the lecture tour to promote his scholarly work, Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Harvard academic Stephen Greenblatt recalled the great interest in Laqueur's work - and a meeting convened to discuss the visit: "The first thing I noticed in that meeting was that everyone had developed overnight an intense sensitivity to double-entendres, as if language itself had become feverish. 'When is Laqueur coming?' [chuckles]. 'His visit raises a number of issues' [giggles]. 'What do we hope will emerge from this discussion?' [snorts]. 'I am sorry if his visit rubs some people the wrong way' [loud guffaws]."

Perhaps it's inevitable. Even the august History of Psychiatry journal spoke of "first-hand knowledge" when it reviewed Laqueur's work.

But now comes a new book: With the Hand: A Cultural History of Masturbation by Mels van Driel, translated by Paul Vincent (Reaktion), and the double entendres are very much still flying about the place. From the London Sunday Times review: "Clear sighted, wry and splendidly wide-ranging: a urologist gets a grip on the history."

THE BOTTOM LINE

"IN MY experience, having sex for money was far better than the long list of low-paid, exploitative, going-nowhere jobs I had as a student. Never did I experience in sex work the dehumanisation I experienced daily in many of those other jobs." - The Sex Myth: Why Everything We're Told Is Wrong by Brooke Magnanti (Weidenfeld).

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