Prizes

The Eclectic 2012 IMPAC Shortlist Has Arrived

The IMPAC Award shortlist was announced today. The IMPAC sets itself apart with its unique approach. Its massive longlist is compiled by libraries all over the world before being whittled down by judges. This makes for a more egalitarian selection. It's also got a long lead time. Books up for the current prize (to be named June 13th) were all published in 2010, putting the IMPAC more than a year behind other big literary awards. There's a distinct upside in this. By now, nearly all the shortlisted books are available in paperback in the U.S. The IMPAC also tends to be interesting for the breadth of books it considers.This year's shortlist is typically eclectic, representing several countries and ranging from bestsellers to relative unknowns.Rocks in the Belly by Jon BauerThe Matter With Morris by David BergenA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – (excerpt, Egan’s Year in Reading, The Millions profile of Egan, A Millions Hall of Famer)The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (excerpt)Even the Dogs by Jon McGregorMatterhorn by Karl Marlantes (our review, excerpt)Landed by Tim PearsLimassol by Yishai SaridThe Eternal Son by Cristovão TezzaLean on Pete by Willy Vlautin (excerpt)
Curiosities, Prizes

MAN Asian Literary Prize Winner Announced

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin has been named the winner of this year's MAN Asian Literary Prize. Learn about the seven-book shortlist in our extensive write-up from January.
Prizes

2011 National Book Critics Circle Award Winners Announced

The winners of the National Book Critics Circle Award have been announced in New York City. The award is voted on by critics and considers all books in English (including in translation), no matter the country of origin. The winners in the various categories and some supplementary links: Fiction: Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision (excerpt) Nonfiction: Maya Jasanoff, Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary War (excerpt) Autobiography: Mira Bartók, The Memory Palace: A Memoir ("The Writer at the Memory Table") Criticism: Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews ("Putting It Together," "The Millions Interview: Geoff Dyer on the London Riots, the Great War, and the Gray Lady") Biography: John Lewis Gaddis, George F. Kennan: An American Life (excerpt) Poetry: Laura Kasischke, Space, in Chains Previously: The finalists
Prizes

2011 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists Announced

The finalists for the annual National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Award have been announced. The fiction list includes one of the biggest fiction releases of last year, but all five of the finalists got a fair amount of ink. No huge surprises. In fact, as we've noted in the past, the NBCC seems to do a better job of catching the zeitgeist than other major prizes like the National Book Award and the Booker, which like to play kingmaker by annointing less well known titles. Here are the finalists for fiction and non-fiction with excerpts and other links where available. As a side note, the NBCC award is particularly interesting in that it is one of the few major awards that pits American books against overseas (usually British) books. Fiction Teju Cole, Open City (our review, excerpt) Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot (How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Write The Marriage Plot, our review, excerpt [pdf]) Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger’s Child (our review, The Millions Interview: Alan Hollinghurst Answers his Critics, excerpt) Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision (excerpt) Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (our review, excerpt) Nonfiction Amanda Foreman, A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War (excerpt) James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (Ben Marcus on The Information, excerpt) Adam Hochschild, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (excerpt) Maya Jasanoff, Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary War (excerpt) John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead (Staff Pick, excerpt [pdf]) For more on the NBCC Awards and the finalists in the other categories, visit the NBCC.
Curiosities, Prizes

The Story Prize 2011 Shortlist

The Story Prize has announced its nominees for the 2011 prize, We Others by Steven Millhauser, Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman, The Angel Esmeralda by Don DeLillo. Our review of the latter was published today.
Prizes

Your Guide to the Man Asian Literary Prize Shortlist

Although an expanded total of seven books made the shortlist for this year's Man Asian Literary Prize, the biggest news was probably one that didn't: Haruki Marukami's super-hyped but critically divisive 1Q84. Instead, Japan is represented on the shortlist by the much slimmer form of Banana Yoshimoto's twelfth novel, The Lake. The Wandering Falcon, written by octogenarian Jamil Ahmad, is the first Pakistani novel to be nominated, while other shortlisted subjects include a vivid history of Guyanese coolies, inter-generational conflict in South Korea, a seafaring epic in nineteenth century Canton, a Chinese blood-selling scandal, and arranged marriage in modern India. It's a broad, engaging list, and probably all the better for not being dominated by such a powerful figure as Marukami. Here are the contenders that are still left standing: The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad: Ahmad, now almost eighty, spent much of his life working for the Pakistani Civil Service in its remote border regions: no-go zones that flash up on Western news reports as Taliban hidey-holes or the destination de rigeur of unmanned drones. The Wandering Falcon focuses on the tribes of those areas, casting overdue light on their deeply religious and honor-bound societies. Ahmad's era may be pre-Taliban - he wrote the book thirty years ago, before being persuaded to seek publication by his wife - but his fractured tales, loosely based around the wanderings of Tor Baz, the eponymous Black Falcon, indicate a resistance to outside interference which would escalate in decades ahead. A masterpiece of focus and brevity, and brilliant in its evocation of an unforgiving landscape, Ahmad's book is also now - for a book that came out thirty years late - remarkably timely. The Sly Company of People Who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya: Bhattacharya won high praise for his book on Pakistani cricket, Pundits From Pakistan, which was published in 2005. Sly Company is a partly autobiographical picaresque of one young man's journeys in Guyana, a nation with which the author fell in love during a previous cricket tour. Bhattcharya's central character is retracing the steps of the boatloads who set sail from Calcutta and Madras in the mid-nineteenth century, lured by tales of a land of gold. The descendants of those so-called coolies as well as the emancipated slaves from Africa have created a unique, tempestuous nation which Bhattacharya succintly captures with his convincing - but at times almost impenetrable - mix of Rasta patois and Hindi movie references. Aiming only for a kind of inner fulfilment, his character hunts diamonds in the country's thick, dark interior, then falls in love and heads for Venezuela. His adventures are underpinned by constant reminders of Guyana's colonial past, and the heavy price it still pays for it. River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh: River Of Smoke is the second novel in Ghosh's planned trilogy, the first of which, Sea Of Poppies, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008. It's an epic by any standards: 517 paperback pages, describing the early skirmishes which would ultimately lead to the 1840 Opium Wars, the Treaty of Nanking, and the secession of Hong Kong to British rule. Bahram, a Parsi trader from Bombay, seeks to land the enormous haul which will finally buy him the respect of his rich wife's family back home. But the Chinese are determined to make trading in opium illegal, and as their crackdown becomes more unforgiving, so Bahram and the brigade of British merchants in whose company he has become inveigled must consider increasingly drastic options. It's all a bit bogged down by an unnecessary sub-plot that is likely left over from his previous book. That said, Ghosh has written a story of such a grand scale that it deserves its opportunity to stand alone. Rebirth by Jahnavi Barua: Rebirth is the only book on the shortlist for which overseas rights are yet to be granted. For that reason, if you manage to track down this book outside India, you're a better literary detective than I. All of which is a shame, because reviews on the sub-continent suggest it is a delicate, deeply affecting novel deserving of wider readership. Set in modern-day Bangalore, Kaberi is pregnant with a longed-for child nobody else knows about: neither her estranged, unfaithful husband, nor her parents or friends. Rebirth takes the form of a monologue from mother to baby in which she expresses her doubts about her marriage and her life, and ultimately seeks, and finds, some form of redemption. In time, it's likely its shortlisting will open it up to a bigger readership; for the time being, the next best thing is probably this comprehensive review via The Hindu Literary Review. Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin: Kyung-Sook Shin is something of a literary phenomenon in South Korea. Please Look After Mom (Mother outside the US) is her seventh novel, and it has sold in excess of one million copies in her homeland. Maybe the most remarkable thing about her latest offering is how she manages to fashion something so unique and soul-searching out so ordinary a conceit. So-nyo, an ailing wife and mother, disappears on the Seoul subway on a trip from the country to visit her eldest son. Her siblings and their father join together in a futile quest to find her. In the course of their search - split between the points of view of son, daughter, father and finally, So-nyo herself - they agonise over how they took her for granted, and in doing so raise the kinds of questions that can apply to us all. Most of all, it offers rare glimpses of life in rural South Korea, and asks whether the nation's insatiable push for progress has come at a price. The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto: She's big in Japan, inspiring a cult following and selling upwards of six million novels, but Banana Yoshimoto will always polarise opinion. Critics may be tempted to call her Murakami-lite, given her fondness for the same kind of broad subjects as her heavyweight compatriot - ultra-modern and slightly otherworldy paeans to urban restlessness. But that comparison probably doesn't do Yoshimoto too much justice. Certainly, Murakami could learn from her brevity. The Lake revolves around the relationship between two fragile students, Chihiro and Nakajima. Nakajima bears the scars of a terrible past, and the plot - such as it is - concerns Chihiro's attempts to figure him out (complete with a visit to a couple of Nakajima's mysterious old friends who live in a run-down shack by the side of a conveniently misty lake). It has its moments, and her champions - of whom there are many - will doubtless shout her claims from the rooftops. But if this was the best book to come out of Asia this year then I'm - well - a Banana. Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke: Set in modern, rural China, Dream Of Ding Village addresses a topic of unimaginable grimmness: the story of the Chinese blood-selling scandal which swept an HIV epidemic through countless small communities, while the authorities, in thrall to the relatively new concept of controlled capitalism, looked away. The most extraordinary thing about Lianke's tale - narrated by the murdered son of the man most culpable for this local tragedy - is his rich use of satire, creating an astonishing allegory of the whole bust-up Chinese communist machine and its clumsy lurch into the free market. With the villagers dying in scores, the rabidly profiteering blood-sellers must seek out ever more inventive ways to maintain their cash flow. Blackmail and corruption are rife: this is a society rendered hopelessly naïve by long years of bludgeoning single-party rule. Lianke is merciless in heaping the misery upon his subjects, and just as cutting in his implied criticism of his country. This is, no doubt, a terribly bleak book. In Lianke's expert hands, however, it is also a very readable and eminently worthy one.
Prizes

2011 National Book Award Winners Announced

The National Book Award winners for 2011 have been announced. The big prize for fiction went to Jesmyn Ward for Salvage the Bones, a novel one critic called "Katrina-drenched" and another "gritty, loamy and alive." (excerpt) The non-fiction award went to The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt (excerpt). The Poetry award was won by Nikky Finney for Head Off & Split. The winner in the Young People's Literature category was Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (excerpt).
Prizes

On Spinach and the National Book Awards

1. I, for one, am thankful for Laura Miller’s article in Salon last month about the alleged irrelevance of the National Book Awards. Miller demonstrates passion—which in my book is almost never a bad thing—for good fiction and, in particular, for “ordinary readers.” Miller wants the NBAs to matter, to have impact. She wants the majority of fiction readers to both pay attention and be influenced by them. In 2004, equally (if not more) troubled by the NBA shortlist, Miller wrote in the New York Times that she wanted the awards to play a strong role in directing readers to what they should read: For people who read, say, four novels a year, prizes help narrow down a bewilderingly vast field of candidates. Awards have become, as the critic James Wood put it, ''the new reviews.'' There is something rather idealistic—in a public service sort of way—about Miller’s position. There are people out there looking for novels they can read and enjoy; let’s give them some. It follows that she is troubled by a generalized cynicism about awards. A.O. Scott wrote about this cynicism back in 2005:  [T]he prizes, transparently trivial, implicitly corrupt and utterly detached from any meaningful notion of literary value, will be greeted with cynicism, derision and, if we're lucky, a burst of controversy. It will escape no one's attention - not even the winners' - that the very idea of handing out medals and cash for aesthetic and intellectual achievement is absurd, if not obscene. Furthermore, the selections will inevitably reflect the rottenness of the literary status quo, which is either hopelessly stodgy and out of touch, or else distracted by modish extraliterary considerations - hobbled, that is, either by conservative complacency or by political correctness. But the National Book Awards, Miller argues, are not playing the role of trusted arbiter; rather, they have become, as she puts it, the spinach of literary awards: established fiction writers (the five judges, a different group annually) telling the reading (non-writing) public what they “should” be reading, regardless of what they might “like” to read.  Her use of spinach as the metaphor implies, it would seem, finger-wagging paternalism. Read this; you will be an improved, healthy, stronger person. Enjoyment? Pleasure? Well, frivolous reader, no pain no gain. 2. Despite my admiration for Miller’s relentless crusading on behalf of “a lot of people,” i.e., “nonprofessional readers,” my personal response to Miller’s argument is fraught; not because of my “professional” status as a reader, but rather due to my relationship with spinach. You see, I love spinach. It is possibly my very favorite food. If I have spinach as part of every meal—raw or cooked, chopped or whole, plain or smothered in something cheesy or creamy or eggy—I am a happy person, my meals are pleasurable. It is in fact challenging for me to conceive of why anyone would hate spinach or need to be forced to eat it or would associate it with the pain that leads to gain. (For the record, I also like liver and other innards, Brussels sprouts, beets, and anchovies; but (ironically?) no brains, please.) When I mentioned this to a friend, he asked me if it was my favorite food, or my favorite vegetable; and my answer is the latter. I love bacon burgers, and I love spinach, and I love them especially together; in my world, there is no carnivore-herbivore hierarchy. If I think back to childhood, no one ever had to tell me to eat my spinach. Or, put another way, no one ever told me that spinach was something that people needed to be told to eat. Sometimes for lunch we had peanut butter sandwiches, or tuna fish, and Doritos (or school rectangular pizza with soggy tater tots); sometimes (when there was more money), we had roast beef on rye and a piece of fruit. My sisters and I ate it all, and liked it, and we’re all in pretty good health now. I never remember thinking, Ew, peanut butter, where’s my roast beef? My partner was raised mostly by his father, who loved food but couldn’t afford luxuries, so he gathered the five children up to hunt for morels and shitakis, pick watercress, dig for razor clams and oysters at the shore (this was in the Pacific Northwest). They kept chickens, which the kids were responsible for feeding and eventually slaughtering, so there were fresh eggs and sometimes chicken meat (including the feet, necks, gizzards) and always broth in the freezer. They ate well but it was also hard work. And so a “gourmet meal” for him now can be anything from grilled American cheese on buttered white bread, to noodles and dumpling soup, to oysters and Sancerre. What is my point here? What I am saying is that we do a disservice to “ordinary readers” and “professional” ones alike, by calling a book spinach and attaching good-for-you but not good-in-itself to that metaphor. We are telling readers, This is spinach, didn’t you know, and you won’t like it; over here, this is ice cream, you’ll definitely like this. Herein lies a more insidious kind of paternalism. In dividing the world among writer-readers, critic-readers, and reader-readers, we assume that—to completely mix my metaphors here—a reader-reader (Miller’s “people waiting for the bus”) would find the literary equivalent of raw oysters or shitaki mushrooms to be esoteric or elliptical or poetic in a way that puts them off. I have caught myself in this mistake myself: when I lived in the South Bronx, I would often be surprised when I saw someone on the 6-train, north of 96th Street, reading something literary. It was important to ask myself why I was surprised. And it happened often enough (and I’m not talking about Mott Haven artists or hipsters) that I knew something was wrong with a world view I’d absorbed thoughtlessly. I want to live in a world—and I believe that if we look and listen closely, we'll recognize that we're closer than we think—where “the reading public,” regardless of the inside-baseball interferences of literary professionals, consumes, likes, and engages with many different kinds of literary nourishment; and where writers, teachers, and critics trust and even expect readers to do so... 3. ...And in this sort of world, it’s a good thing to have an award like the NBA whose winner is specifically selected by writer-peers; along with an award like, say, the National Book Critics Circle Award, that is selected by some 25 book critics, and by systematic vote as opposed to the NBA's small-group consensus. Having different awards, with different selection processes and juries, seems to me to keep the process—the parties involved—optimally honest; it allows everyone to be themselves and not have this be a liability. One wonders what Miller would have NBA novelist-judges do, short of intentionally selecting books that don’t genuinely or particularly excite them, simply because those books have gotten a lot of media and Amazon-reader attention? I don’t and can’t know what really happens in those closed-door discussions, what baggage or agenda each judge might bring, but it would seem much more highly suspect to me—in a cynical, power-brokering, old boys club sort of way—if all the writers and critics in America were indeed selecting the same five favorite books in a given year. On what planet of readers does that happen, honestly? Given how many books each judge must read (315 this year for the NBA), and how quickly, it would seem that the specter of group-think could loom. That such pressures instead seem to push favorites to the fore for each judge in a more idiosyncratic way—you’d be looking for what grabs you—is a tribute to the individualized intelligence and diverse aesthetic interests of these judges and board members. (See Victor LaValle's riposte to Miller at Publisher's Weekly for one NBA judge's confirmation of this.) A side-by-side comparison of the finalists and winners in fiction for the NBA and NBCC since 2004 reveals both complete divergence (2004, 2006, 2007, 2010) and also significant overlap (2005, 2008, 2009).  (Note: one might assume we’d see more overlap if the NBCC was also limited to American writers). I’m not sure why this is a bad thing for anyone, whether you consider yourself a reader-reader, critic-reader, writer-reader, or all of the above; especially since we now all have access to so much literature-specific social media—Amazon and Goodreads, for example—for recommendations from mostly “nonprofessional” readers who share one’s tastes. It also does not follow, by the way, that the more “professional” you become as a writer, the more “writerly” (by which Miller means a love of “beautiful sentences, formal experiments and infinitely delicate evocations of emotional states”) your reading tastes become. I think about the book that made me want to become a writer, long before I’d actually written anything: Annie Dillard’s A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I would guess that Laura Miller hates this book, if she’s read it, or at least hates it for an award (it won the Pulitzer) and would not recommend it to an “ordinary reader.” It is dense, and ponderous, and theological, and there is no “story” apart from the “esoteric” story of humanity and existence, a young woman examining her tiny corner of the natural world with a magnifying glass and meditating on meaning. Then I think of what I’m reading now: everything by William Gay, and Matt Bondurant’s The Wettest County in the World—bootleggers, murders, car chases, thwarted love for the boy from the wrong side of the tracks; storytelling at its best, artful and muscular language. And I can’t get enough. 4. I was not being facetious or rhetorically sly in praising Miller for continuing to write passionately about the NBAs. I try to be on the side of idealism over cynicism generally speaking, which is more and more challenging as I get older. In this case my position is ultimately more idealistic than Miller's: I have faith in the pleasures of spinach, in the folks waiting for the bus and riding the 6-train, and even in the possibility of a world where we all read more than four novels a year.   Image credit: anathea/Flickr
Prizes

Digging into the 2012 IMPAC Longlist

The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award has unveiled its massive 2012 longlist. Recall that libraries around the world can nominate books for the prize, and these nominations, taken together, comprise the longlist. This year there are 147 novels on the list, nominated by 122 libraries in 45 countries. All of the books must have been published in English in 2010 (including translations). Because of the award’s global reach and egalitarian process, it’s always interesting to dig deeper into the longlist. Taken as a whole, the literary proclivities of various countries become evident, and a few titles recur again and again, revealing which books have made a global impact on readers. Overall favorites: books that were nominated by at least seven libraries. Room by Emma Donoghue (20 libraries representing Australia, England, France, Ireland, the Maldives, New Zealand, and the United States) The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (13 libraries representing Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the United States) Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (12 libraries representing Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, and the United States) To the End of the Land by David Grossman (10 libraries representing Brazil, Canada, Germany, and the United States) Purge by Sofi Oksanen (8 libraries representing Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland) Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (7 libraries representing the Czech Republic, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United States) You can also look at the list and see which books are favorites in different countries. Several books were nominated by multiple libraries in the same country. Here’s a few: In Canada, Annabel by Kathleen Winter In Germany, Fame by Daniel Kehlmann In Ireland, Skippy Dies by Paul Murray In the Netherlands, Counterpoint by Anna Enquist and The Book Club by Marjolijn Februari There were also several countries with only one library nominating just one or two books. Here are a few of those: From Bermuda, Gorée: Point of Departure by Angela Barry From Cyprus, A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible by Christy Lefteri From Hungary, One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divakaruni From India, Serious Men by Manu Joseph From Japan, The Book of Heroes by Miyuki Miyabe
Prizes

The Favorite Takes Home the Booker

Julian Barnes, a four-time shortlister, has finally won the Booker Prize for The Sense of an Ending. It was only the second time in eight years that the favorite with the bettors has won (Wolf Hall was the other). We called Barnes's book one of our Most Anticipated for the second half of 2011: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: Three-time Man Booker shortlister Julian Barnes has written a new novel, the first since Arthur & George was published in 2005. According to Barnes’ website, The Sense of an Ending is a middle-aged man’s retroactive search for truth about his time as a member of “sex-hungry and book-hungry” adolescent crew, one of whose members meets an untimely end. The title–certainly a nod to Frank Kermode’s classic work of literary theory–suggests that Barnes, true to fashion, will apply the theories of literature to private life, hopefully with the same panache of his earlier novels. U.S. publisher Knopf was smart to move the publication date up to October 5th. The book was originally slated to come out in the U.S. in January 2012.