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).
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