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.
Back in January I briefly made mention of something called the WHSmith Award. It's a British award that is determined by public opinion. People vote from a list of nominated finalists to determine the best book of the year. After 148,000 votes cast, they have announced the winners in eight categories, including the latest Harry Potter in the fiction category, Brick Lane by Monica Ali for best debut novel, Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer for travel books, and Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country?, in something called the "factual" category. So as not turn over complete control to the masses, the also give out an award called the "Judges' Choice," which was awarded to the American writer, Richard Powers for his dense critical favorite, The Time of Our Singing. As I said when I first found out about this award, I would be very interested to see the results of an American award determined by popular vote. A lot more Americans read than people think, so an astute businessperson could, in my opinion, do quite well creating an award like this to fill the void. Here are the complete results of the 2004 WHSmith Awards.
It's been a busy week on the awards circuit. What seemed like a relatively calm Booker season grew divisive after the winner was announced: "The worst, certainly the most perverse, and perhaps the most indefensible choice in the 36-year history of the contest," said former Booker judge Boyd Tonkin of this year's choice, John Banville's The Sea, and then the Irish press called the British press "bitchy" (reg. req.) in response. The National Book Awards, meanwhile, will likely involve less controversy than last year thanks to a more diverse mix of finalists. And the less said about the Quills, the better.But it has been the Nobel Prize for Literature, usually a civilized affair, that has been grabbing headlines this year. First, it came to light that the award was being delayed a week as the judges fought over the politics of a potential Laureate, the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk. Then, a day before the announcement, former judge Knut Ahnlund denounced last year's Nobel winner Elfriede Jelinek, whose writing he called "whingeing, unenjoyable, violent pornography." But now we have a new Laureate, and he seems less likely to incite controversy, the British playwright, Harold Pinter, whose name, as the LA Times puts it, "has become a synonym for a unique space in the universe of drama." Pinter is the first British Laureate since V.S. Naipaul in 2001, and he is, as far as I can tell, the first playwright to win the Nobel since Eugene O'Neill in 1936. For those wanting to get their hands on Pinter's body of work, try his Complete Works: One and TwoUpdate: So, from Richard and Jenny in the comments, it seems as though Dario Fo and Wole Soyinka are more recently lauded playwrights than O'Neill, and possibly there are others depending on how you classify them.
The finalists for the annual NBCC award are now out. The fiction list pairs a couple of less buzzed about books with three that have already received either award love or copious amounts of ink in the book pages and on blogs. 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 the only major award that pits American books against British ones.FictionVikram Chandra, Sacred Games (excerpt, Garth's review)Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao (excerpt, Edan's review)Hisham Matar, In The Country of Men (excerpt, Booker shortlisted)Joyce Carol Oates, The Gravediggers Daughter (excerpt)Marianne Wiggins, The Shadow Catcher (excerpt, a Millions most anticipated book)NonfictionPhilip Gura, American Transcendentalism (excerpt)Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848 (New Yorker review)Harriet Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present (excerpt)Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA (excerpt, NBA Winner)Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (excerpt) For more on the NBCC Awards and the finalists in the other categories, check out the NBCC's blog.
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