Ah, well. De gustibus non est disputandum.
The National Book Award winners for 2009 have been announced. The big prize for fiction went to Colum McCann for Let the Great World Spin. McCann was the highest profile name among the nominees, and his book which revolves around Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between World Trade Center towers in 1974, was generally seen as the favorite. More on the book: excerpt, review, Most Anticipated.
In this age of tycoons, fallen and otherwise, it is perhaps fitting that the non-fiction award went to The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T. J. Stiles (excerpt). The Poetry award was won by Keith Waldrop for Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy (excerpt [pdf]). The winner in the Young People’s Literature category was Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose, a true story about a teenager who played a pivotal, but now forgotten role in the civil rights movement (excerpt).
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.
Somehow I didn’t get a MacArthur “Genius” Grant this year, but a pair of literary geniuses did (the full list of Geniuses). The MacArthur grant awards $500,000, “no strings attached” to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” This year’s literary geniuses are:Chimamanda Adichie is a Nigerian-American novelist who wowed readers with Half of a Yellow Sun. Kevin reviewed the book here at The Millions, writing “Although Adichie devotes almost equal time to life before the war and life during it, it is the war narrative that drives the book and gives it a residual strength that I still feel more than week after finishing it. Her description of civilian suffering is so direct and real, that it’s hard to believe she never experienced it herself (Adichie is only 31, and learned about the civil war from her parents who survived it on the Biafran side).” Adichie won the Orange Prize for Half of a Yellow Sun. Adichie’s first novel was Purple Hibiscus.Alex Ross is best known because he brings incredibly accessible prose and a palpable love for music to his job as the New Yorker music critic. (Not as well known: he went to the same high school as me, graduating ten years before I did.) Ross won a Pulitzer this year for his very highly regarded book The Rest is Noise. One of my favorite Ross essays is available on his website. From “Listen to This“: “I hate ‘classical music’: not the thing but the name. It traps a tenaciously living art in a theme park of the past. It cancels out the possibility that music in the spirit of Beethoven could still be created today. It banishes into limbo the work of thousands of active composers who have to explain to otherwise well-informed people what it is they do for a living. The phrase is a masterpiece of negative publicity, a tour de force of anti-hype. I wish there were another name.”