I look forward to the announcement of the National Book Award Winners, as well as the Pulitzer Prize Winners, every year, and to me it is every bit as exciting as Oscar Nominations, and perhaps more meaningful. To be sure, there are great films worthy of recognition, but isn't it time we raise the public profile on great Literature? Wouldn't it be terrific if all the Literary Awards were televised amid great fanfare? I would bet that if entertainment media created excitement around these, they would gain more legitimacy with the public and...maybe... people would read more good writing, and not rely solely on the ghastly Best-Sellers just to stay current with trends....much the same way that others MUST see all of the nominated films before Oscar night.
So for my fellow readers (and as quick a reference to myself !) I have listed the 2009 Winners and Finalists for Fiction and Non-Fiction at the end of this post,.
(MOVIE TANGENT...I was a big fan of the Oscars for most of my life, and I must say I still get excited the day of the nominations, much more than on Oscar night itself. I was so obsessed growing up, that if you picked a year after, say 1937, I could tell you the Best Picture Winner, and most likely the Acting Winners ....even, some years, all of the Best Picture Nominees.......
In the last several years I have become disenchanted with the quality of films selected for Oscars, and since the fiasco of 2005, when the most artistic, hands-down-deserving best film that year was subject to an organized snub, exposing Hollywood's disappointing homphobia, Oscar night has become downright depressing. Now I feel like a previously honored guest who has been unceremoniously shown the door, so the festivities could proceed without me. "Milk" last year did much to bring me back to the fold....but the fervor over "Slumdog Millionaire" was a disappointment...)
Since I have been a better and more voluminous reader since 9/11 (see my post from September 12, How 9/11 Made Me A Reader Again), I have read a lot from these lists of award-winning fiction and non-fiction. Along with the NBA and Pulitzers, I follow, among others, the PEN/Faulkner Awards and the Booker Prizes. They all have helped me to identify well-respected literature and non-fiction, which have further exposed me to quality authors and subject matter, that in turn helped me amass a portfolio of great books and a legacy of reading that I have listed in a journal...a personal biography through my books, as it were.
So, I am excited to find out the winners and finalists each year. In reviewing this year's National Book Awards, I must admit I am not familiar with any of them...and if awards have any merit at all, it is in helping direct people to what is good, or at least original and new. I hope to sample some of these in the coming year.
The National Book Award Winners, at least those I have read, tend to be edgier, more challenging and difficult, than the Pulitzer winners, taken as a whole (although there are, of course, marked exceptions). I found last year's NBA Winner, "Shadow Country", repetitive and repulsive...long and descriptive and ugly. I also disliked "News From Paraguay" and "The Corrections".
However, I loved "The Echo Maker" "Three Junes" "Europe Central" and "Waiting", along with many others from earlier years like "From Here to Eternity" "Goodbye Columbus" "The Wapshot Chronicle", "The World According to Garp," and "Sophie's Choice". I am about half-way through the fiction list, and have a way to go yet in the non-fiction realm.
I just re-read the titles in the above paragraph....many have become part of the common lexicon, recognizable, almost household names....I wonder which of this year's winners will achieve that staus in time?
In April I will discuss the Pulitzers in a lot more detail.
So much to read.....
FICTION JUDGES: Alan Cheuse, Junot Díaz, Jennifer Egan, Charles Johnson, Lydia Millet
NONFICTION JUDGES: David Blight, Amanda Foreman, Steve Olson, Camille Paglia, John Phillip Santos