I was ruminating a bit about the Pulitzer Prize this week and wondering why it isn’t a bigger deal. The bookstore I worked at in Los Angeles may not be indicative of national trends, but while I was there, the Booker Prize and the National Book Award moved more books than the Pulitzer. (The Nobel Prize had a bigger impact on sales than all the other awards combined, believe it or not.) I think part of the reason that the Pulitzer fails to capture the interest of readers is that it’s much less controversial than other awards. Pulitzer winners are almost always safe picks. But part of it, I think, is that the award has no build up. The judges do not announce the nominees (aka the shortlist) in advance, instead the finalists are revealed at the same time as the winner. It’s pretty obvious that having a shortlist would build interest – some might say artificially – by placing the prize in the public eye for longer. But I’d argue that the Pulitzer is worthy of this treatment. Though the picks are often safe, taken together, the Pulitzer winners are an incomplete, but still compelling bunch of books. The Pulitzers are primarily a journalism award, and that, I think, matters too, in that it allows us to equate the novel with journalism, which, at its best, is meant to be a noble and unfrivolous pursuit. (And this isn’t just the J-school grad in me talking.) Finally, giving the Pulitzer a shortlist would just be more fun and it would give us book bloggers more to natter on about.
Eleanor Catton has claimed the 2013 Man Booker Prize – as well as its £50,000 payout – for her second novel, The Luminaries. Catton had 11/4 odds to win this year’s prize according to popular bookmakers, Ladbrokes, and she has now become the youngest author to ever win the prestigious award. The four judges read 151 novels before deciding on Catton’s work, and chairman Robert Macfarlane estimates that the reading amounted to “about 21 kilometres of prose” at “12-pt Adobe Garamond.” In a recent review for our site, Martha Anne Toll referred to Catton’s novel as “that rarest literary treasure, a book of such dazzling breadth and scope that it defies any label short of masterpiece.” She continued: Deeply entrenched in New Zealand’s South Island, The Luminaries makes clear that this author commands the world at her fingertips. Her literary ancestry derives less from her homeland and more from the British and American giants of the nineteenth century. Catton deserves their company. Nodding to Melville, she’s nailed the tormented sea captain and the revenge obsessed “Chinaman.” With so many characters taking on false identities and trying to out-cheat each other in New Zealand’s gold rush, Catton, too, has mined the seamy underside of greed and poverty so beloved by Dickens. Like George Eliot, Catton looks behind the stereotype of the whore and the opium dealer and forces us to question where the real morality lies. By the novel’s end, every character’s initial presentation has been destabilized. Reader, Catton instructs, don’t judge a book by its cover. Next year will be the first year in which American authors will be eligible to win the Man Booker Prize, which has previously been open only to authors from the British Commonwealth. You can take a glimpse at the other books on the 2013 Man Booker Prize longlist and shortlist as well.
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The finalists for the annual National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Award have been announced. The fiction list includes four books that have gotten quite a lot of attention over the last year - the Franzen, Egan, Grossman, and Murray - and one outlier, a novella originally written in 1947 by the 101-year-old Keilson, that was published in English for the first time last year. One might argue that with this set of finalists, the NBCC's fiction contest is more high-profile this year than the NBA and Booker slates were. Here are the finalists for fiction and non-fiction with excerpts and other links where available. As a side note, the NBCC award is particularly interesting in that it is one of the few major awards that pits American books against overseas (usually British) books. Fiction Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (at The Millions, Egan's Year in Reading, excerpt) Jonathan Franzen, Freedom (at The Millions, excerpt) David Grossman, To the End of the Land (review) Hans Keilson, Comedy in a Minor Key (profile) Paul Murray, Skippy Dies (review, Murray's Year in Reading, excerpt) Nonfiction S.C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches (excerpt) Jennifer Homans, Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet (excerpt) Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (excerpt) Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (excerpt) Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (excerpt) For more on the NBCC Awards and the finalists in the other categories, visit PW.
Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question has won the Booker Prize, beating out far better known shortlisters like C by Tom McCarthy and Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey, and Emma Donoghue's Room, which has been getting quite a lot of buzz of late. Bloomsbury USA, the book's stateside publisher, meanwhile, got lucky with the book hitting shelves today. The publisher's description calls the book "a scorching story of exclusion and belonging, justice and love, aging, wisdom and humanity. Funny, furious, unflinching, this extraordinary novel shows one of our finest writers at his brilliant best." An excerpt of the book (scroll down) begins: He should have seen it coming. His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one. He was a man who saw things coming. Not shadowy premonitions before and after sleep, but real and present dangers in the daylit world. Lamp posts and trees reared up at him, splintering his shins. Speeding cars lost control and rode on to the footpath leaving him lying in a pile of torn tissue and mangled bones. Sharp objects dropped from scaffolding and pierced his skull. Jacobson has written a number of novels. Probably the best known are The Making of Henry, Coming From Behind, and Kalooki Nights, which was on the 2006 Booker longlist and which Sara Ivry in these pages called "Hilarious, shocking, provocative."
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Perhaps the world's most jawed about literary prize has released its 2007 longlist. It features one legitimate heavyweight (who is currently the favorite in the betting parlors) and a few other familiar names. All the Booker Prize longlisters are below (with excerpts where available):Darkmans by Nicola BarkerSelf Help by Edward Docx (excerpt)The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng (excerpt)The Gathering by Anne EnrightThe Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (excerpt)The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies (excerpt)Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (excerpt)Gifted by Nikita Lalwani (excerpt)On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (excerpt)What Was Lost by Catherine O'FlynnConsolation by Michael Redhill (excerpt)Animal's People by Indra SinhaWinnie & Wolf by A.N.Wilson
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