The action at TMN’s Tournament of books continues. Judge Marcus Sakey shocked the world by selecting The Emperor’s Children over The Echo Maker, which was, to my mind, the presumptive favorite having taken down the National Book Award and all manner of praise from critics spanning the globe. But this, folks, is why we play the games. The Echo Maker going down early hurts our chances to win this thing as we had it going all the way (my pdf bracket). Luckily, a number of other folks had the book going far as well, so the damage is somewhat limited. In other news, the little rat that could, Firmin, made it through round one, selected by judge Sarah Hepola over Brookland, which she found to be “so boring.”
Award season is in full swing now. The Booker was awarded yesterday, and the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature will be announced tomorrow or soon after, but today is all about the finalists for the National Book Award. As Ed remarked, in so many words, for the second year in a row, the judges have managed to deliver a crop of fiction finalists that satisfyingly occupy the sweet spot between obscurity and being, well, too obvious. On to the finalists in all categories, and, where available, excerpts from the books.Fiction:Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski – an excerpt of sortsA Disorder Peculiar to the Country by Ken Kalfus – excerptThe Echo Maker by Richard Powers – (very short) excerptEat the Document by Dana Spiotta – excerptThe Zero by Jess Walter – excerptNon-fiction:At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 by Taylor Branch – excerptImperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran – excerpt 1, 2The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan – excerptOracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present by Peter Hessler – excerptThe Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright – excerptPoetry:Averno by Louise Gluck – poemChromatic by H.L. HixAngle of Yaw by Ben Lerner – poemsSplay Anthem by Nathaniel Mackey – poemCapacity by James McMichael – poemYoung People’s Literature:The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson – excerptKeturah and Lord Death by Martine LeavittSold by Patricia McCormick – excerptThe Rules of Survival by Nancy WerlinAmerican Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang – pages
The winners of the 2006 National Book Awards have been announced. A year after William T. Vollmann won the fiction award it has gone to Richard Powers for The Echo Maker (excerpt), marking a shift in focus (though perhaps not yet a “trend”) toward honoring some of the names on the leading edge of American fiction. The New York Times, in its writeup, mentions that “as in recent years, the fiction category raised eyebrows in the publishing industry for its lack of commercially known nominees in a year of big-name authors,” but I don’t recall hearing much rumbling about the nominees. If anything, as I wrote when the nominees were announced, this year’s nominees “satisfyingly occupy the sweet spot between obscurity and being, well, too obvious.” And if one looks at the bodies of work of the five nominees, as well as their literary reputations, Powers was certainly deserving of this plaudit. Judging on his book alone, from what I’ve heard, he is a worthy winner, as well.In nonfiction, the award went to Timothy Egan for The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (excerpt) taking on a very important topic in American history that hasn’t gotten much attention from the writers of popular history. The Young People’s Literature award was given to M.T. Anderson for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party (excerpt), sparing us the possibility of an angry backlash against those darn graphic novels. And for Poetry, the award was given to Nathaniel Mackey for Splay Anthem (poem).
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 National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) are worth paying attention to both because they are not limited to American (or British) writers like some of the other awards and because they sometimes include single out less well-known books for praise. Looking at the fiction finalists this year, both of those elements are certainly in play.FictionRoberto Bolaño, 2666 (Why Bolaño Matters, excerpt)Marilynne Robinson, Home (excerpt, a most anticipated book)Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project (excerpt)M. Glenn Taylor, The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart (excerpt)Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge (a Year in Reading pick, excerpt)NonfictionDexter Filkins, The Forever War (excerpt)Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering (excerpt)Jane Mayer, The Dark Side (excerpt, review)Allan Lichtman, White Protestant Nation (excerpt)George C. Herring, From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations Since 1776 (excerpt)The NBCC also named finalists in the Criticism, Biography, Autobiography, and Poetry categories.