Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day 14: Celebrating Award Winners

It's Day 14 in our 24 Days of Books. Today we're celebrating award winners, and in particular the recently announced winners of the National Book Awards for Nonfiction and Fiction: Patti Smith for her memoir Just Kids and Jaimy Gordon for her novel Lord of Misrule. (You can watch the entire award ceremony at the National Book Foundation's website.) You can read about the finalists for the National Book Award on our blog.

Patti Smith's memoir offers a glimpse of her remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies, in which a chance encounter in Brooklyn led two young people on a path of art and devotion. Joan Didion called the book "so honest and pure as to count as true rapture."

Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. Her seminal album Horses, bearing Robert Mapplethorpe’s renowned photograph, has been hailed as one of the top 100 albums of all time. She has recorded twelve albums. In 2005, the French Ministry of Culture awarded Smith the prestigious title of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, the highest honor awarded to an artist by the French Republic. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

I'm particularly drawn to the fact that Smith is a life-long booklover who worked at Scribner's bookstore in New York in her younger days. "I was completely smitten by the book. I longed to read them all, and the things I read of produced new yearnings." I'm also drawn to people who use the word smitten. It's true.

Equal parts Nathanael West, Damon Runyon, and Eudora Welty, Lord of Misrule follows five characters through a year and four horse races at Indian Mound Downs, downriver from Wheeling, West Virginia. Kirkus Reviews called the book "a novel of luck, pluck, farce and above all horse racing." Adding, "Exceptional writing and idiosyncratic characters make this an engaging read."

Jaimy Gordon is the author of three previous novels, Shamp of the City-Solo, She Drove Without Stopping, and most lately Bogeywoman, which was on the Los Angeles Times' list of Best Fiction of 2000. Born in Baltimore, she now lives in Kalamazoo, and teaches at Western Michigan University and in the Prague Summer Program for Writers.

Other award winners that would make great gifts include this year's Booker Award winner, The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson; the Pulitzer winner for fiction, Tinkers, by Paul Harding; The winner of the Orange Prize for fiction, The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver; and the book that has hit just about every Top Whatever List of 2010, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

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