The winners of the Lettre Ulysses Award – a prize for book-length reportage that I discussed a few weeks ago – have been announced. Alexandra Fuller’s account of her travels with a white, African mercenary, Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier took the 50,000 Euro first prize while A Season in Mecca: Narrative of a Pilgrimage by Moroccan Abdellah Hammoudi and Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq by Riverbend won the 30,000 Euro second prize and 20,000 Euro third prize, respectively.
It's becoming a tradition of sorts, the Nobel jury gives the Prize to an author virtually unknown in the United States, and newspaper columnists grumble while small and university presses bask in a moment of publishing glory. Nobody outside a few square miles in New York cares that this year's Pulitzer or Booker winner was put out by Random House or HarperCollins, but even to the casual observer of the literary scene, there's something refreshing (and, for some, aggravating) about seeing yet another Nobel winner with only the faintest, most haphazard publishing footprint. The Nobel Prize, probably half the time, shines a huge spotlight some pretty obscure books. For small and university presses, the Prize is a rare moment of popular notice. Daniel E. Pritchard who works for David R. Godine, Publisher in Boston wrote as much a year ago reacting to J.M.G. Le Clézio's Nobel win, "Nobel Prizes are usually the playground for big boys. They were noticeably absent from this one, leaving all the fame and street-cred for small independents." Godine published Le Clézio's The Prospector. The University of Nebraska Press also published Le Clézio, with two books in print when the Nobel was announced last year: The Round and Other Cold Hard Facts and Onitsha. According to the press' publicity manager Cara Pesek, Nebraska sold just "a handful" of copies of both titles in 2007, but "since the prize was announced last year, those two titles have accounted for more than $100,000 in incremental sales." With Herta Müller's win, Nebraska has now struck Nobel gold two years in a row. Pesek said that the day after the Nobel was announced, the press had 3,000 backorders for Müller's book Nadirs. The director of University of Nebraska Press, Donna Shear, tempered the excitement somewhat, saying that the Nobel turns a book into "a steady backlist seller" as it finds its way onto University reading lists. But she added that a side-effect of the Nobel jury's idiosyncrasies is that the Prize becomes "a validation of the efforts of University presses." The Euro-centric Nobel also injects some commercial viability into the typically limited world of literature in translation. After winning the Nobel in 2002, Hungarian writer Imre Kertész went from university presses to Knopf and Vintage. Meanwhile, plans are already underway to bring Müller to a wider audience. Shear said Nebraska put in a bid for Müller's latest, Atemschaukel, recently shortlisted for the German Book Prize, but it's expected that the book will land with one of the big publishing houses. We expect our book prizes to confirm that a book or author's commercial success and positive reviews are well-deserved. Sometimes the Nobel plays this role - a validator of critical opinion - but, for the American audience, it often does something different. And this is where the grumbling comes in. We don't like to be told that an author we've never heard of is one of the greatest ever. But in cases like Müller and Kertész and Le Clézio, the Nobel serves as a reminder that in certain corners of the publishing industry, there are presses shepherding the work of these writers into print and keeping it available until such time as the rest of us are able to take notice.
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A couple of months ago I posted about the longlist for the Lettre Ulysses Award, a prize that is given to the best book-length reporting. They have since announced the winner and runners-up, and this year the award went to The People on the Street: A Writer's View of Israel by Linda Grant. Her book is a ground level view of life in Israel, placing it in counterpoint to the scads of books that look at the region from 35,000 feet. In an excerpt, we read about the reaction on the street in Tel Aviv when people found out that Saddam had been captured.
The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award has unveiled its massive 2012 longlist. Recall that libraries around the world can nominate books for the prize, and these nominations, taken together, comprise the longlist. This year there are 147 novels on the list, nominated by 122 libraries in 45 countries. All of the books must have been published in English in 2010 (including translations). Because of the award’s global reach and egalitarian process, it’s always interesting to dig deeper into the longlist. Taken as a whole, the literary proclivities of various countries become evident, and a few titles recur again and again, revealing which books have made a global impact on readers. Overall favorites: books that were nominated by at least seven libraries. Room by Emma Donoghue (20 libraries representing Australia, England, France, Ireland, the Maldives, New Zealand, and the United States) The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (13 libraries representing Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the United States) Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (12 libraries representing Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, and the United States) To the End of the Land by David Grossman (10 libraries representing Brazil, Canada, Germany, and the United States) Purge by Sofi Oksanen (8 libraries representing Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland) Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (7 libraries representing the Czech Republic, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United States) You can also look at the list and see which books are favorites in different countries. Several books were nominated by multiple libraries in the same country. Here’s a few: In Canada, Annabel by Kathleen Winter In Germany, Fame by Daniel Kehlmann In Ireland, Skippy Dies by Paul Murray In the Netherlands, Counterpoint by Anna Enquist and The Book Club by Marjolijn Februari There were also several countries with only one library nominating just one or two books. Here are a few of those: From Bermuda, Gorée: Point of Departure by Angela Barry From Cyprus, A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible by Christy Lefteri From Hungary, One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divakaruni From India, Serious Men by Manu Joseph From Japan, The Book of Heroes by Miyuki Miyabe
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The IMPAC Award shortlist was announced today. The IMPAC sets itself apart with its unique approach. Its massive longlist is compiled by libraries all over the world before being whittled down by judges. This makes for a more egalitarian selection. It's also got a long lead time. Books up for the current prize (to be named June 13th) were all published in 2010, putting the IMPAC more than a year behind other big literary awards. There's a distinct upside in this. By now, nearly all the shortlisted books are available in paperback in the U.S. The IMPAC also tends to be interesting for the breadth of books it considers.This year's shortlist is typically eclectic, representing several countries and ranging from bestsellers to relative unknowns.Rocks in the Belly by Jon BauerThe Matter With Morris by David BergenA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – (excerpt, Egan’s Year in Reading, The Millions profile of Egan, A Millions Hall of Famer)The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (excerpt)Even the Dogs by Jon McGregorMatterhorn by Karl Marlantes (our review, excerpt)Landed by Tim PearsLimassol by Yishai SaridThe Eternal Son by Cristovão TezzaLean on Pete by Willy Vlautin (excerpt)
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Next by James Hynes has been named the winner of The Believer Book Award, and it was announced Friday that Thomas Teal’s translation from the Swedish of Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver took home the Best Translated Book Award. The book was competing with a shortlist of ten novels in translation.