Sometimes it seems like all there is to write about is book awards. The National Book Awards are handed out, but wait, here are the Whitbread finalists. The Whitbread, Britain’s second most prestigious prize after the Booker, is, it seems to me, at a disadvantage. Since the Whitbread comes out only a couple of months after the Booker, the selections are compared in the press. If the Whitbread too closely mirrors the Booker, it loses some of its punch, but if the judges pick a shortlist with no overlap with the Booker, the Whitbread is criticized for being too obscure. This year, the only overlap with the Booker is that they have both shortlisted Ali Smith’s The Accidental. As was much remarked when the Booker list was announced, many well-known authors have books out this year: Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith and Julian Barnes, among others. None of those made the Whitbread list, a fact that seems likely to have prompted head judge Philippa Gregory’s defensive sounding remark in the Guardian: “Our shortlist may confuse the book trade. We are not saying these are the only good books. They are books which happened to resonate powerfully with the judges of the moment.” The list does include two notable names: Salman Rushdie for Shalimar the Clown and Nick Hornby for A Long Way Down. Rounding out the fiction list is Cotton by Christopher Wilson (which, since it is going by a different title in England, has been much misrepresented in the press, as the Literary Saloon points out.) For the finalists in all the categories, visit the Whitbread site.
This year’s Costa (renamed from the Whitbread thanks to a change in sponsorship) Award winners have been named in several categories. The prize typically plays second fiddle to the heavyweight Booker, but some might appreciate its refreshing lack of fanfare, drama, and controversy (which seem to accompany the Booker and which some consider part of its charm). Still, the Costa consistently comes up with solid winners, and its “first novel” category is good at “discovering” new writers. This year’s winners across five categories are:Novel: Restless by William BoydFirst Novel: The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef PenneyChildren’s Book: Set in Stone by Linda NewberyPoetry: Letter to Patience by John HaynesBiography: Keeping Mum: A Wartime Childhood by Brian Thompson
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. Several books up for the current prize (to be named in June) were initially published as far back as 2013, 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, and the 2015 shortlist is no exception, with seven countries represented, though only three of the books are translated works. Four of the ten shortlisters are by women.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Year in Reading)
Horses of God by Mahi Binebine
Harvest by Jim Crace (at The Millions)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Art After Tragedy: The Narrow Road to the Deep North)
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
K by Bernardo Kucinski
Brief Loves that Live Forever by Andreï Makine
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (The Real and the Imagined: On Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic, Colum McCann’s Year in Reading)
Someone by Alice McDermott (Alice McDermott’s Year in Reading)
Sparta by Roxana Robinson (Roxana Robinson on Edith Wharton)
The National Book Critics Circle announced the nominees for its annual best of the year awards over the weekend. Ed has stepped up to call the fiction selections in particular “safer than a dinner for four at the Olive Garden.” The relative safety of the books aside, my understanding was that this award was meant to be given to the books that the nation’s critics believe are of the highest quality, regardless of how well known or how obscure they are.While it might have been more interesting to for us to discuss five relatively unknown and incredibly challenging novels, I think that such a slate would have been intellectually dishonest when the critics are charged with picking the books they think are the best. Let us not forget 2004, when the five National Book Award nominees in fiction were basically unknowns across the board. The people behind the Award that year were roundly derided for their selections and those nominees were anything but safe. In that case, and in looking at this year’s NBCC nominees, I would suggest that we debate the books’ quality rather than whether they are too “predictable,” which strikes me as an even more slippery qualifier.For more on how the NBCC makes its picks, check out TEV’s interview with NBCC president John Freeman. Here are this year’s nominees in fiction and nonfiction along with excerpts where available (nominees in other categories can be found at the NBCC site):Fiction:Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (excerpt, an Emerging Writers best of the year)The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (excerpt)What is the What by Dave Eggers (excerpt, Garth’s review)The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford (excerpt, Noah’s review)The Road by Cormac McCarthyNonfiction:The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq by Patrick Cockburn (One of Cockburn’s Iraq diaries in the LRB)The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade by Anne Fessler (NYT review)The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (Patrick’s review)Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution by Simon Schama (excerpt)The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan (excerpt)