Wednesday, October 13, 2010

National Book Award Finalists

Fresh on the heels of last night's announcement of The Booker Prize Winner comes today's announcement of the finalists for this year's National Book Awards. Author Pat Conroy read out the five finalists in four categories at Flannery O'Connor's childhood home. The lists certainly offer some surprises -- particularly in the books not on the lists!
  • Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America (Alfred A. Knopf): From the two-time Booker Prize-winning author comes an irrepressibly funny new novel set in early-19th-century America.
  • Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule (McPherson & Co): A darkly realistic novel about a young woman living through a year of horse racing at a half-mile track in West Virginia, while everyone's best laid schemes keep going brutally wrong.
  • Nicole Krauss, Great House (W.W. Norton & Co): A powerful, soaring novel about a stolen desk that contains the secrets, and becomes the obsession, of the lives it passes through.
  • Lionel Shriver, So Much for That (Harper): A deeply resonant novel that looks at America's health-care system, and poses the disturbing moral question that affects more people every day: How much is one life worth?
  • Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel (Coffee House Press): A stunningly complete vision of San Francisco's Asian American community in the late '60s and early '70s, using the landmark hotel as a meeting point for ten loosely connected novellas, each covering a single year. 

  • Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Spiegel & Grau): Follows the lives of six North Koreans over 15 years--a chaotic period that saw the unchallenged rise to power of Kim Jong Il and the devastation of a famine that killed one-fifth of the population.
  • John W. Dower, Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq (W.W. Norton & Co): A Pulitzer Prize-winning historian returns with a groundbreaking comparative study of the dynamics and pathologies of war in modern times.
  • Patti Smith, Just Kids (Ecco): Smith's evocative, honest, and moving coming-of-age story reveals her extraordinary relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe -- a book about friendship in the truest sense, and the artist's calling.
  • Justin Spring, Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward (Farrar, Straus & Giroux): Drawn from the secret, never-before-seen diaries, journals, and sexual records of the novelist, poet, and university professor Samuel M. Steward, this work is a sensational reconstruction of one of the more extraordinary hidden lives of the 20th century.
  • Megan K. Stack, Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War (Doubleday):  A shattering account of war and disillusionment from an LA Times national correspondent on the front lines of the war on terror in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • Kathleen Graber, The Eternal City (Princeton University Press): Offers eloquent testimony to the struggle to make sense of the present through conversation with the past.
  • Terrance Hayes, Lighthead  (Viking Penguin): In his fourth collection, Terrance Hayes investigates how we construct experience.
  • James Richardson, By the Numbers (Copper Canyon Press): A collection of poems and aphorisms.
  • C.D. Wright, One with Others (Copper Canyon Press): Wright examines a racist event in her native Arkansas and creates a layered, nuanced, and riveting tribute to her mentor.
  • Monica Youn, Ignatz (Four Way Books): The comic strip Krazy Kat serves as the inspiration and jumping off point for Youn's second book, though intimate familiarity with the strip isn't necessary to enjoy these poems, which address the theme of unrequited desire. 

  • Paolo Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker (Little, Brown & Co): From a Nebula-award winner (The Windup Girl) comes a fast-paced postapocalyptic adventure set on the American Gulf Coast. 
  • Kathryn  Erskine, Mockingbird (Philomel Books): Narrated by a ten-year-old girl with Asperger's syndrome, a story about a community's healing process.
  • Laura McNeal, Dark Water (Alfred A. Knopf): The catastrophic wildfires that ravaged Southern California in 2007 serve as the backdrop for this compelling story of a forbidden romance with tragic consequences, set in an inland farming community. 
  • Walter Dean Myers, Lockdown (Amistad): bestselling author takes readers into the world of juvenile detention facilities, creating a nuanced, realistic portrait of a teen dealing with incarceration and violence.
  • Rita Williams-Garcia, One Crazy Summer (Amistad): Set in Oakland, California, in 1968, this book has been described as "The Penderwicks meet the Black Panthers."

The National Book Award winners will be announced at a ceremony in New York on November 17. At the event, Tom Wolfe will receive the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service will be presented to Joan Ganz Cooney, a founding producer of "Sesame Street."

I'm sad to say that I've only read one of the books on these lists (Ship Breaker), so clearly I've got my work cut out for me! How about you? Have you read any of these books? Are you surprised by any that were included or excluded from these lists?

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