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):
- 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 McCarthy
- 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)