Wednesday, October 14, 2009

National Book Awards

Gore Vidal will receive the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation.

The National Book Awards are more enthralling than the Oscars, the Pulitzer, the Emmys, or the Golden Globes if you're facing bleak weather and want to stay indoors and read. People don’t go stir-crazy for the NBA (the book awards, not the basketball): this isn’t the Booker and it isn't England. No one bets on the National Book Award, no one writes a million articles for the lifestyle sections on the award, and nobody is really on tenterhooks about who will win. The NBA needs the Man Booker Prize’s publicists: the publishers would love it. So many deserving books are brought to our attention through the NBA every year - and the great thing is that the National Book Awards go to fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and young adults’ lit.

Gore Vidal has been declared winner of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and Dave Eggers winner of The Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. The rest are still in the finalists stage.

This time, amazingly, I’ve read two of the finalists for fiction, Jayne Anne Phillips’ Lark & Termite and Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin. Since I don’t have a good record for reading contemporary fiction, I’m quite pleased that I know two of these books. Phillips’s Lark & Termite is my favorite, but give the award to Colum McCann and you still have my vote. I’ll write briefly about the two I've read and then list the others in all categories below.

Phillips’s Lark & Termite: Set in West Virginia in the ‘50s, this novel poetically delineates the unusual symbiotic relationship between Lark, a teenager, and her younger brother, Termite, a handicapped child whom she cares for and whom the social services want to send to a special school. Interwoven are the stories of Aunt Nonie, the waitress who raises them, their absent mother, and Termite’s father, lost in the Korean War.

Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin: a novel that interweaves the stories of several diverse Americans, including prostitutes, a monk, computer hackers, and a group of grieving mothers of Vietnam casualties. While Philippe Petit walks a tightrope between the Twin Towers in 1974, these New Yorkers experience the poignancy of everyday dramas.

The other fiction finalists are:

Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders

Marcel Theroux's Far North

Bonnie Jo Campbell's American Salvage

Nonfiction finalists:

David M. Carroll’s Following the Water: A Hydromancer’s Notebook

Sean B. Carroll's Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of the Species

Greg Grandin's Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City

Adrienne Mayor's The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy

T. J. Stiles' The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

Poetry finalists

Rae Armantrout's Versed

Ann Lauterbach's Or to Begin Again

Carl Phillips's Speak Low

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon's Open Interval

Keith Waldrop's Trancendental Studies: A Trilogy

Young people’s literature finalists:

Deborah Heiligman's Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

Phillip Hoose's Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

David Small's Stitches

Laini Taylor's Lips Touch: Three Times

Rita Williams-Garcia's Jumped

The winners will be announced Nov. 18.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Another group I've not read any of! Ellen