After a decidedly quiet run up to this year’s National Book Awards, the winners have been announced. William T. Vollmann, known, it seems, more for his graphomania than any of his books in particular, has won for his novel, Europe Central. Back in April, when the book came out, Tom LeClair in the New York Times called Europe Central Vollmann’s “most welcoming work, possibly his best book.” In the next sentence, LeClair calls Vollmann “an off-putting writer, sometimes intentionally so,” and perhaps the judges figured now, when Vollmann has written a more accessible (or shorter, though only for Vollmann could 832 pages be considered short) book, is the time to give him the plaudits he deserves.The non-fiction award went, unsurprisingly, to Joan Didion for her heart-wrenching and much praised memoir of the year following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, The Year of Magical Thinking. In the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley called it “a lacerating yet peculiarly stirring book.”The other winners are: for poetry, Migration by W.S. Merwin and for young people’s literature, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. You can see all the Finalists listed here.
The Booker was awarded Monday, the Nobel Prize will be awarded tomorrow, and today this year’s National Book Award finalists were announced (by John Grisham, no less). Last year the National Book Foundation was vehemently criticized by some and defended by others for nominating five relatively unknown women from New York in the fiction category, but there will likely be less controversy this year as big name (and past winner for World’s Fair in 1986) E.L. Doctorow leads the list. As the Amazon rankings at the time of the announcement indicate, the Mary Gaitskill doesn’t exactly qualify as obscure either. Though not a commercial superstar, another notable nominee is William T. Vollmann. The complete list of nominees in all categories follows:FictionE.L. Doctorow, The March (Random House) (rank: 17)Mary Gaitskill, Veronica (Pantheon) (rank: 786)Christopher Sorrentino, Trance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) (rank: 45,062)Rene Steinke, Holy Skirts (William Morrow) (rank: 423,858)William T. Vollmann, Europe Central (Viking) (rank: 51,709)NonfictionAlan Burdick, Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)Leo Damrosch, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius (Houghton Mifflin)Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (Alfred A. Knopf)Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers (Times Books)Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (Houghton Mifflin)PoetryJohn Ashbery, Where Shall I Wander (Ecco)Frank Bidart, Star Dust: Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)Brendan Galvin, Habitat: New and Selected Poems, 1965-2005 (Louisiana State University Press)W.S. Merwin, Migration: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press)Vern Rutsala, The Moment’s Equation (Ashland Poetry Press)Young People’s LiteratureJeanne Birdsall, The Penderwicks (Alfred A. Knopf)Adele Griffin, Where I Want to Be (Putnam)Chris Lynch, Inexcusable (Atheneum)Walter Dean Myers, Autobiography of My Dead Brother (HarperTempest)Deborah Wiles, Each Little Bird That Sings (Harcourt)
Now that all the 2004 best of lists are behind us, I thought folks might be interested in what we have to look forward to. I have no doubt that in 2005 we will be introduced to many new literary faces, but there are also a number of well-known authors whose books will hit shelves this year: Murakami, McEwan, Foer, and more. So, I’ve compiled a list of books that you may find yourself reading this year. The list goes through July; some of the release dates are rough estimates, and a few of the dates will probably change. Also, I’m sure there are books I’ve missed, so please leave a comment with any other books you might be looking forward to this year.There’s a passel of intriguing books coming out in January. Hitting stores any day now is William Boyd’s latest collection of stories, Fascination. This one has been out in the UK for a couple of months, and the Gaurdian described Boyd’s stories this way: “They would seem a little too perfect if they weren’t also suffused with an understanding of love, desire and emotional incompetence.” You can read an excerpt here. Next week sees the arrival of Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland. The New York Times isn’t impressed, calling it “a high-art twist on chick lit,” but the Boston Globe says the book “remains as thoughtful and melancholy as the Beatles song its title evokes.” You can read an excerpt here (pdf). Then, on or around January 18th, comes a book that many readers have been looking forward to: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. This one’s been out for a while in the UK, too. Kafka is not a departure from Murakami’s surreal oeuvre. The book follows the parallel paths of 15-year-old runaway named Kafka and Nakata, an elderly bumpkin who can communicate with cats. According to initial reviews, the book doesn’t seem likely to be considered his finest work, but it should please Murakami fans. I encourage you to take a look at the Kafka page at the Complete Review for all the review coverage, and if you would like to read the first five chapters of the book, go here, click on the contest link, fill out your info, and use the password “kafka.”February: In 1990 Charles Johnson won a National Book Award for his book Middle Passage. Since then he has written a novel and a collection of short stories, and on February 8, a new collection, Dr. King’s Refrigerator, will be released. A Publishers Weekly review says that some of the stories are too didactic, but “Johnson’s longer, more carefully fleshed out stories are most effective.”March: Francine Prose’s A Changed Man, which will be out March 1, looks very intriguing. An early review by Publishers Weekly describes this story of a young neo-Nazi who walks into a human rights organization office wanting to change his ways as “a good-natured satire of liberal pieties, the radical right and the fund-raising world.” It will be interesting to see if this book proves to be, as HarperCollins declares, “Prose’s most accomplished yet.” Given the astonishing success of Ian McEwan’s Atonement in 2002, his follow-up effort, a novel called Saturday, may be the most anticipated work of fiction in 2005. A recent piece in the New Yorker which was taken from the new novel shows promise. The central character of the novel, Harry Perowne, is a confident but unconventional neurosurgeon whose altercation with a thug following a car accident is the catalyst that sets the plot inexorably in motion. You can read the excerpt here. Look for the book on March 22. After writing a book as massive as Rising Up and Rising Down (that’s 3352 pages, by the way), you’d think William T. Vollmann would take a break. Apparently not. On March 24, Viking will release Vollmann’s latest collection of short stories, Europe Central, which take place in Russia and Germany during World War II. The breadth of Vollmann’s work is truly astounding.April: Buoyed by the success of his Boston Red Sox book (co-written by fellow fan Stephen King), Stewart O’Nan is probably hoping that some of those baseball fans will become fans of his fiction. His new novel, The Good Wife, comes out on April 1. O’Nan also considered calling this novel Upstate, a reference to the incarcerated husband of the book’s protagonist. Everything I read about Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, makes me more and more curious. Among young, bright writers who have emerged in the last couple of years, Foer is probably the youngest and may be the brightest as well. His first novel, Everything Is Illuminated included narration in broken English, and his short story “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease” did things with typography that I haven’t seen done in fiction before. The new book – set to arrive on April 4 – will continue with this sort of experimentation, including the use of photography to illustrate the novel. There’s an interesting interview available at this website where Foer goes into detail about the new book (You have to click on the Foer link and then on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to get to it, but it’s worth the trouble). After a five year hiatus, Kazuo Ishiguro has a new book coming out on April 5. The new book, called Never Let Me Go, is about an English boarding school with a troubled, but until now forgotten, past. You can read an excerpt here.May: All the dedicated (some might say rabid) Chuck Palahniuk fans out there will be pleased to hear that he has a new book coming out this year (his official fan site is known as “The Cult,” by the way). Haunted is a novel in 23 stories. Each story centers on a visitor to a writers’ retreat where things, inexorably, go awry. I say it sounds like an update on the classic summer camp horror flick, but Doubleday describes it as “The Real World meets Alive.” Look for it May 17.June: Paul Theroux’s latest work of fiction is about “the ultimate one-book wonder.” For such a prolific writer, with a new novel or travelogue out nearly every year it seems, I wonder if creating this character was a struggle for Theroux, if he was able to get into the mind of a man with writer’s block, something I suspect Theroux is not often afflicted with. The book is called Blinding Light. It will be released on June 1. Apparently Jonathan Safran Foer isn’t the only literary stylist coming out with an illustrated novel in 2005. Umbarto Eco’s new novel The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana will be of the illustrated variety as well. According to the Harcourt publicity, the memories “racing before the eyes [of the book’s amnesiac protagonist] take the form of a graphic novel.” No word on who supplied the artwork — or if it was Eco himself, but the book has been out in Europe since last year so I suppose someone knows the answer. Here are some thoughts on the book from a blogger who read the German translation. The book comes out on June 3. George Singleton’s forthcoming novel — titled Novel — is the only debut novel on this list, but Singleton is already well-known by readers who enjoy his comic stories and Southern charm. You can read one of his short stories here. The new book, which is set to come out on June 6, is about a snake handler from the town of Gruel, South Carolina.July: John Irving isn’t quite the superstar novelist he once was. Irving’s novels — The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Hotel New Hampshire — were my introduction to contemporary literary fiction, and he was my first real “favorite author.” But the middling quality of his recent novels, each one more mediocre than the last, ill-timed remarks about who should or should not pay taxes, and his dalliances with Hollywood have lost him some of his fans. Still, he keeps writing novels, and maybe this next one, Until I Find You (about a son’s search through the tattoo underworld for his ink-addicted father), will be a return to form. The book comes out on July 12.And if these aren’t enough for you check out preview articles from The Herald, The Age (reg. req.), the Boston Globe, and the Guardian. Happy reading in 2k5.