Even though it was undoubtedly the work of literary fiction that engendered the most excitement during 2008, by dint of its South American pedigree Roberto Bolaño's 2666 wasn't eligible for most of the English-speaking world's literary awards. However, the National Book Critics Circle, which doesn't place many limits on who is eligible for its annual award, saw fit to recognize the book. The full slate of winners:Fiction: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño (Why Bolaño Matters, excerpt)Poetry (two winners): Sleeping it Off in Rapid City by August Kleinzahler and Half of the World in Light by Juan Felipe HerreraCriticism: Children's Literature: A Reader's History by Seth Lerer (Lerer's Year in Reading at The Millions)Biography: The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul by Patrick French (a Year in Reading pick)Autobiography: My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq by Ariel SabarNonfiction: The Forever War by Dexter Filkins (excerpt)
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Even though this blog is devoted almost exclusively to books, I would be remiss if I did not mention the remarkable natural phenomenon that has been going on around me these past few days. The 17 year cicadas have emerged en masse from underground. Everyone, I'm sure, in their lifetime has had an encounter with a swarm of one type of bug or another, termites, bees, mosquitoes perhaps. In one of my grungier apartments in Los Angeles I once walked into to the kitchen to find more ants than one ever likes to see in one place. But the cicadas, they are something completely different. Brood X, as the scientists call this particular population, inhabits highly localized spots in the mid-Atlantic and Ohio River valley, and in some areas, like where I live, there are as many as 1.5 million per densely forested acre. The bugs themselves are large, larger than nearly any bug I've encountered, but they are oddly non-threatening. They are so dumb as to be barely functioning organisms. Walking through my yard, I'll see a cicada approaching at a distance of fifty feet, and it will continue to fly in a straight line until it plows into me and then falls to the ground, dazed or unconscious. Each morning there are hundreds of them in piles against the side of the house, which they were unable to avoid during their night time travels. We sweep them away and an hour later there are dozens more. They give off this high pitched drone, and when you get a million or so together you can hear them from inside the house. Combined with the ungodly humidity, the noisesome, gigantic bugs have lent a prehistoric feel to the summer, not unlike the dinosaur simulation I remember from Epcot Center when I was younger. I half-expect a giant plastic animatronic T. Rex to be lurking behind my house. But they'll be gone in a month, not to return for another 17 years, and I'll be able to put away the plastic whiffle bat that I use to beat them back every time I leave the house.Vladimir Nabokov, of course, adored a more likeable sort of bug, the butterfly. In yet another fantastic "Second Reading" column, Washington Post book reviewer, Jonathan Yardley revisits Nabokov's memoir, Speak, Memory. If this all sounds familiar to you, you may recall that a New York Times article about Nabokov inspired me to write about this book a few weeks back.And in non-bug news, E. L. Doctorow, whose new book Sweet Land Stories came out recently, comments in the Washington Post on the heckling he received during his controversial commencement speech at Hofstra University last weekend.
Sometimes I think Mrs. Millions prefers to ignore my blogging obsession - I do get the occasional eye roll - but then she goes and surprises me. Ain't she the greatest? So, yesterday, thanks to our car being in the shop, Mrs. Millions was stuck with a long bus ride from near downtown to our neighborhood on the north side. I was going about my business when this text message arrived on my cell phone: "Sighting. The ultimate book on how to draw robots."Hilarious. But now, of course, it must go on the blog. Mrs. Millions tells me you couldn't miss the guy because how often do you see an Ignatius J. Reilly type reading a robot art book on public transit. Well, probably more often than you'd guess. Of course being obsessive about these things, I had to quiz Mrs. Millions so we could determine exactly what the book was. Turns out it's called You Can Draw Transforming Robots (You Can!). Those are the best kind of robots. I'm mostly working from home these days, which doesn't afford me much opportunity to engage in my favorite Chicago hobby, public transit bookspotting, luckily, Mrs. Millions is picking up my slack. As usual.
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What if I were to tell you that only half of you is actually you? A new book by Ed Yong takes a look at the human body and the microbial stowaways that make up most of us: "Reader, as you read these words, trillions of microbes and quadrillions of viruses are multiplying on your face, your hands and down there in the darkness of your gut. With every breath you take, with every move you make, you are sending bacteria into the air at the rate of about 37 million per hour — your invisible aura, your personal microbial cloud. With every gram of food you eat, you swallow about a million microbes more."