Joseph Epstein (Fabulous Small Jews, Snobbery) takes a look at the glut of awards, literary and otherwise in a Wall Street Journal piece: “All this prize-giving has made the field of culture rather like one of those progressive preschools where, on graduation day, even the most hopeless child is given a prize for not actually maiming his classmates.”
Lisa pointed out in a comment on yesterday’s post that I neglected to mention the finalists in the Young People’s Literature Category of the National Book Award. That’ll teach me to cut corners. So here they are (and the poetry nominees as well… they need the love, too):Young People’s LiteratureHoney, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti — excerptGodless by Pete Hautman — excerptHarlem Stomp! A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance by Laban Carrick Hill — Hill on the novelThe Legend of Buddy Bush by Shelia P. Moses — excerptLuna by Julie Anne Peters — excerptPoetryShoah Train by William Heyen — a poemCollected Poems by Donald Justice (posthumous) — obitThe Rest of Love by Carl Phillips — some poemsGoest by Cole Swensen — poemsDoor In The Mountain: New And Collected Poems, 1965-2003 by Jean Valentine — poems (cool website)A Visit from DoctorowE.L. Doctorow described writers as prophets and the act of using a library as a sacrament in an obliquely political and densely literary talk at Northwestern on Wednesday. He decried President Bush, describing his “dismal public conduct so shot through with piety.” In his talk, entitled “Apprehending Reality,” he used the Bible as a jumping off point citing it as the first appearance of many literary techniques: adaptation, driving a plot with characters and working backwards from conclusion to motivation as a mystery writer might. From his Biblical introduction, he made the leap to the present day divide in America “between the old stories and the new, between the writers of the old and the impertinent writers of the new.” The talk was adapted from an essay in Doctorow’s book, Reporting the Universe. Doctorow’s most recent work of fiction is Sweet Land Stories.
Last night, the winners of the National Book Critics Circle Award were announced in New York City. The award is voted on by critics and considers all books in English (including in translation), no matter the country of origin. The winners in the various categories and some supplementary links:
Nonfiction: Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (excerpt)
Criticism: Clare Cavanagh, Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West
Biography: Sarah Bakewell, How To Live: Or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (at The Millions, excerpt)
Poetry: C. D. Wright, One with Others
Previously: The finalists
Award season is hitting a its stride, and this year’s National Book Award finalists have been announced. Looking at our speculative post of a couple weeks ago, we pegged Marilynne Robinson and Aleksandar Hemon as likely fiction finalists (kudos to Garth on guessing both). Joining them is 81-year-old Peter Matthiessen for a book that, as the AP notes, is “an 890-page revision of a trilogy of novels he released in the 1990s.” The other two fiction finalists, meanwhile, are somewhat more obscure. Not making the fiction cut are notable writers like Philip Roth, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Geraldine Brooks. Here’s a list of the finalists in all four categories with bonus links and excerpts where available:Fiction:Home by Marilynne Robinson (excerpt, a most anticipated book)The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon (excerpt)Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner (excerptShadow Country by Peter Matthiessen (excerpt)The End by Salvatore Scibona (excerpt)Nonfiction:This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust (excerpt)The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed (excerpt)The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer (excerpt)Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives by Jim Sheeler (excerpt)The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order by Joan Wickersham (excerpt)Poetry:Watching the Spring Festival by Frank Bidart (in The Quarterly Conversation)Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems by Mark Doty (poem)Creatures of a Day by Reginald Gibbons (poem)Without Saying by Richard Howard (poem)Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith (recordings)Young People’s Literature:Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (excerpt)The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (excerpt)What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy BlundellThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (excerpt)The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (excerpt)
China has its first literary Nobel Laureate as the prize has gone to 57-year-old novelist Mo Yan. Yan is said to make use of magical realism and satire in addressing China’s recent history. His books have been frequently banned in China and “Mo Yan” is a pen name meaning “don’t speak.” Yan’s given name is Guan Moye.
Yan’s style here is maximalistic, headlong, sloppy to be sure, but bursting with life; or rather, lives — human and otherwise. A Chinese landowner is executed at the dawn of the Cultural Revolution, and the story follows him literally to hell and back, again and again as he’s reborn in a progression of animal incarnations. Each time, he winds up near his former family and participates in its dramas, goes on animal adventures, and witnesses the hardships, cruelties, and absurdities of life in China over the last half-century. Mo Yan himself shows up as a character from time to time.
Yan’s other books available in English include:
Red Sorghum (which was made into a feature film)
The Garlic Ballads
Big Breasts & Wide Hips
The Republic of Wine
Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh
Explosions and Other Stories
Forthcoming in January: Pow!
He also has a story in the collection of Chinese short fiction Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused