It’s that time of year again – the time of year when various orginizations and institutions take the cue from the NCAA basketball tournament to create their own contest in which various products are placed into brackets so that, via head to head competition, the best of the best can be determined. Usually this sort of thing is reserved for beer commercials, and it’s hard for anyone to pay that much attention to it, but, as they proved last year, The Morning News has taken the March Madness ripoff to a new level with its Tournament of Books. It was good fun for basketball fans and book fans alike last year and it promises to be good fun this time around to. To play along, meet the judges and download your bracket (pdf). Anyone want to start a pool?
In what seems peripherally related to our recent exercise in award aggregation, The Prizewinners, the Booker Prize recently announced their Best of the Booker, a prize to commeorate the 40th anniversary of the Prize and also to name the “best overall novel to have won the prize.” It went, somewhat predictably, to Salman Rushdie for Midnight’s Children – the book also won when the Booker gave out a similar award 15 years ago. Scott, however, makes a very compelling argument that J.G. Farrell’s “novel of imperial decay,” The Siege of Krishnapur, deserved to be honored instead.Meanwhile, in what seems peripherally related to our recent exercise in books-in-translation aggregation, The Prizewinners International, the Lit Saloon points us to The Times’ (UK) list of “the 50 outstanding literary translations from the last 50 years,” presented alphabetically. Some Millions favorites like The Master and Margarita, 100 Years of Solitude, and If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler appear. Interestingly, Edith Grossman, one of the most celebrated translators in recent years, does not make the list.
So, it wasn’t Philip Roth, Amos Oz, Joyce Carol Oates, Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, or Thomas Pynchon. Instead the honor has gone to Doris Lessing, a British writer who has explored themes of social issues and dabbled in science fiction. She debuted in 1950 with The Grass is Singing and has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times, for Briefing for a Descent into Hell in 1971, The Sirian Experiments in 1981 and The Good Terrorist in 1985 (two out of three of which are now out of print, though likely not for long). Lessing’s most recent book is The Cleft, which came out in August. And, though I’m no Lessing expert, her most notable work is thought to be The Golden Notebook from 1962. Interestingly, dating back to my bookstore days, out of all the major literary awards – the National Book Award, the Booker, and the Pulitzer – only the Nobel reliably drove significant interest. On the day the prize was announced, customers on the phone and in person would descend on the store, occasionally leading to problems when a relative unknown with little in print, like Imre Kertesz or Elfriede Jelinek, won the award.Bonus Links: The curious can dig into articles on Lessing and reviews of her work dating back to 1984 at the New York Times; much of Lessing’s copious output is available at Amazon.
This year’s IMPAC shortlist was quite eclectic, as we noted when it was released. One side effect of this is that the 2008 IMPAC won’t have an impact on the “Prizewinners” tally that we keep. The upshot, of course, is that the IMPAC shed its spotlight on some less well-known names, including this year’s winner: Beirut-born, Canadian novelist Rawi Hage, who won for his debut effort, DeNiro’s Game.Andrew reviewed the book for us last year, writing “Less a political tract than a survival story, DeNiro’s Game illustrates how a war breeds anarchy which then gives way to militia rule.” Elsewhere, The Globe and Mail covers the award and offers an excerpt from Hage’s acceptance speech.
Jamaican novelist Marlon James has won this year’s Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings. James is the first Jamaican-born writer to win the Prize. Our own Janet Potter and Michael Schaub wrestled with the book on The Book Report earlier this year.
Revisit this year’s Booker Shortlist.
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)
Last year we noted that by honoring William T. Vollmann in 2005 and then Richard Powers the following year, the National Book Award seemed to be making a move toward “honoring some of the names on the leading edge of American fiction,” as opposed to the old guard or the merely obscure. One could say that the NBA has always filled this roll, but it seemed to have lost its focus in the years before 2005, particularly in 2004, when five relative unknowns were nominated for the fiction prize and the entire literary community seemed collectively bewildered.The NBA has stayed true to form, however, in 2007 with a strong slate of nominees and with this year’s fiction winner, named last night, Denis Johnson, for his Vietnam War novel Tree of Smoke. In discussing the finalists, we called Johnson the “presumptive favorite,” and he was a favorite that many readers seemed to want to win. We have a review of the book available, and curious readers can also check out an excerpt. With Johnson away on assignment in Iraq, his wife accepted the award for him.Moving to the other categories, Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes: The History of the C.I.A. (excerpt) took home the non-fiction prize, beating out Christopher Hitchens. Sherman Alexie, whose adult fiction has never made the cut for the fiction award, was a winner in the Young People’s Literature category for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (excerpt). The poetry award went to Robert Hass for Time and Materials (poem).For more on the award ceremony, check out the Times writeup. And Ed, who attended with several other bloggers, offered his own coverage as well.