Much as The 9/11 Commission Report made big headlines for its non-fiction National Book Award nomination, the nomination of Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Vol. 1 for best biography by the National Book Critics Circle (though I’m told the book is deserving of this honor) will likely steal the spotlight in terms of news coverage of the prize. There seems to be a subtext to those fiction finalists, though. In contrast to the NBA brouhaha, the critics’ finalists for fiction aren’t likely to cause much of a stir. In fact, the list of nominees, topped by Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, looks very much like the set of books that most “critics” were hoping for when they decried the NBA finalists and their obscurity. The AP’s book guy Hillel Italie also notes the switch that the NBA and the NBCC have made this year: “Critics are known for championing the obscure, but this year’s list was filled with prominent names and titles, especially compared with last fall’s National Book Awards, a supposedly more glamorous affair.” I’m wondering if the NBCC is trying to prove a point here. Here are all the finalists:Fiction:The Plot Against America by Philip RothGilead by Marilynne RobinsonThe Dew Breaker by Edwidge DanticatThe Line of Beauty by Alan HollinghurstCloud Atlas by David MitchellNon-fiction:Arc of Justice by Kevin BoyleBlue Blood by Edward ConlonThe Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCullochThe Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. ShiplerBlood Done Sign My Name by Timothy B. TysonBiography:Chronicles, Vol. 1 by Bob DylanAlexander Hamilton by Ron ChernowWill in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen GreenblattQueen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John GuyDe Kooning: An American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn SwanPoetry:The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004 by Adrienne RichDanger on Peaks by Gary SnyderCocktails by D.A. PowellThe Orchard by Brigit Pegeen KellyInterglacial by James RichardsonCriticism:Paper Trail: Selected Prose, 1965-2003 by Richard HowardThe Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel by James WoodSontag & Kael: Opposites Attract Me by Craig SeligmanWhere You’re at: Notes from the Frontline of a Hip Hop Planet by Patrick NeateStrangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century by Graham Robb A lifetime achievement award will be given to Louis D. Rubin, Jr., the founder of Algonquin Books. The winners will be announced March 18.
My good friend Garth, writer, rocker, and erstwhile purveyor of Hot Face wrote in with his favorite read of the year.The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst — Callow young aesthete Nick Guest is a devotee of late-period Henry James, whose style, he says, “conceals things and reveals things.” In Alan Hollinghurst’s portrait of politics, money, and sex in Thatcher-era London, style reveals more than it conceals. Among the revelations this preposterously well-written novel offers, in the end: that there’s a little Nick Guest in all of us, that aestheticism is not just a superficial flight from the deeper world but a kind of fumbling toward it, and that Hollinghurst is a novelist of rare gifts. Here he almost single-handedly bridges the divide between the novel of society and the novel of the self, combining the former’s imaginative sprawl, objectivity, moral exactitude, and attentiveness with the latter’s searing emotional investment in its subject. The Line Of Beauty is by turns charming, voyeuristic, sentimental, merciless, witty, affecting, austere, and graphic. Throughout, it is a triumph on par with Brideshead Revisited, Remembrance of Things Past, or the works of the Master himself.
The Guardian gives us Booker-winner Line of Beauty “condensed in the style of the original.”Some of you may have already seen this one: The 100 Greatest Books of all Time, also from the Guardian. How many have you read? I’m at 24, and I love that Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim makes the list. To anyone who is looking for a recommendation on what to read right now: get Lucky Jim, you’ll love it.Weren’t we talking about ISBNs the other day? Here’s a new blog about ISBNs and “book information” by a former Amazon employee and the creator of isbn.nu.Steve Landsburg asks: Too many books? I’m not completely sure I see his point. He seems to be implying that people only read one book a year. Furthermore, publishers fall all over themselves trying to create a blockbuster book; it’s far more cost-effective to promote a few guaranteed big sellers than a lot of risky titles. Sad but true. Perhaps the better thing to do is not to bemoan the inevitable Da Vinci Codes but to instead look for creative, cost-effective ways to promote riskier books.Malcolm Gladwell, author of the trendsetting book about trendsetting, The Tipping Point, has new book coming out called Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, in which he “reveals that what we think of as decisions made in the blink of an eye are much more complicated than assumed.”
Millions reader Lisa found Booker winner Line of Beauty to be “a more intellectualized, less satirical version of Stephen Fry’s The Liar.” I’m sure Lisa won’t mind if you borrow that line at the next cocktail party.The new Gabriel Garcia Marquez book (Memories of My Melancholy Whores, they’re calling it now) continues to generate headlines. This time Gabo foils the pirates. Go Gabo!At Amazon you can watch Jon Stewart make an ISBN joke whilst hawking his book America. Just click on the link and then check out the “Amazon.com Exclusives.”Spotted on the El: Truman Capote’s “unfinished novel” Answered Prayers.
You may have heard. In a surprise upset, the Booker Prize was awarded to Alan Hollinghurst for Line of Beauty. Oddsmakers, literary professionals, and speculating bloggers all considered David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas to be a lock, but the Booker, as is so often the case, proved too wily to predict. The award will lead to many newspaper write-ups (NYT reg req’d), and a big boost in sales, although, from the looks of things, I would expect relatively modest Vernon God Little numbers rather than blockbuster best seller list Life of Pi numbers. With the Booker overwith, all eyes turn towards the National Book Awards, which will be announced on November 17th. A look at the non-fiction finalists.Bookspotting on the ElI meant to link to this post from Conversational Reading a while ago as it really captures the particular afflictions of many book lovers. His first question caught my eye: “Do you surreptitiously observe what people are reading on public transit?” Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that I have the odd habit of posting about the books I spot people reading during the course of my day. (Bookspotting I call it.) Some might find this odd, but I think it’s fascinating, and better than any newspaper article or bestseller list at seeing what books people are interested in. Sure you lots of people reading the bestsellers, but you also see a delightfully random sampling of the books that our fellow citizens bury their noses in each day. Some my find this to be an odd hobby, but I it manages to affirm my faith in civilization. Here are the three books that I noticed from my seat on the Red Line today: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (Morrison is an essential of American lit), The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (I’d wager that this book has been a huge seller here in Chicago), and Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare (I love seeing people casually reading Shakespeare on their way to work).
The Booker frenzy is reaching a fevered pitch. I’ve scoured the web for the words of the shortlisted authors. Place your bets accordingly.The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall — excerptLine of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst — profileCloud Atlas by David Mitchell — excerptThe Master by Colm Toibin — excerptI’ll Go to Bed at Noon by Gerard Woodward — excerptBitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor — interview