The winners of the National Book Award were announced earlier this week. Of all the literary awards (Nobel, Booker, Whitbread, Giller Prize, IMPAC, Pulitzer, National Book Critics Circle), the NBA is my favorite, as the nominees most closely match the sort of books I like to read—solidly literary but not esoteric or punishingly difficult or pretentious.
Each year, I try to read at least one of the nominees from the fiction list, and this year I had already read the Mischa Berlinski, as well as the Sherman Alexie. I’m thrilled about Sherman Alexie winning in the Young Readers category. He really deserves the accolade. Denis Johnson’s book interests me, too.
But, mostly I'm wild about Joan Didion's lifetime achievement award. This year I was blown away by a novel she wrote in 1970—Play It As It Lays—and her more recent memoir about the death of her husband, The Year of Magical Thinking. She's brilliant, and I look forward to reading more.