Wednesday, October 15, 2008

fall=literary award season

The fall is a great time to be a reader, for so many reasons. Not only do you have all the heaviest-hitting, highest-quality books being released in time for the holidays, but you also have the announcement of major literary awards. This week alone has yielded a bounty.

The National Book Award finalists were announced just moments ago. Hands down, the NBA is my favorite literary award. It represents the best American literature. As with many awards, it is not without its faults, but year after year, the nominees are the sort of books I want to read. And unlike the Booker Prize, you've likely heard of at least a few NBA finalists.

The presence of literary giants Marilynne Robinson and Peter Mathiessen* is exciting, but so too are the debuts of Aleksandr Hemon for The Lazarus Project (Hemon has had two story collections published, one a National Book Critics Circle nominee), Rachel Kusher for Telex from Cuba (strong front-page NYT review), and Salvatore Scibona for The End (published by my hometown's small press hero, Graywolf). For the three latter authors, inclusion on this list will certainly boost sales and exposure.

The National Book Award will be announced on November 19. Nominations have also been made in poetry, nonfiction, and young readers categories. I'm less interested in these, so you'll have to visit the NBA website for more information.

And, in a stroke of good timing, The Booker Prize winner was announced last night. Aravind Adiga, is only the fourth author to win for a debut novel. His novel, The White Tiger has been on my radar, though I doubt I'll get to it this year. Michael Portillo, a former MP and judge for this year's Booker, said

The judges found the decision difficult because the shortlist contained such strong candidates. In the end, The White Tiger prevailed because the judges felt that it shocked and entertained in equal measure.

"The novel undertakes the extraordinarily difficult task of gaining and holding the reader's sympathy for a thoroughgoing villain. The book gains from dealing with pressing social issues and significant global developments with astonishing humour.

Which National Book Award finalists have you read? Who are you rooting for?

*I have to confess that I find the Mathiessen a curious choice. In The Shadow Country, Mathiessen combines the three Florida novels (Killing Mr. Watson, Lost Man's River, and Bone by Bone) into one. One novel, not one volume with three novel. This was how he'd intended the book to be published but because of the length, it was carved into three separate volumes. Now, masterfully collapsed and reworked, The Shadow Country is being hailed as monumental.

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