Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An Exciting Day for Readers: NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS 2009 (and an Oscar Rant)

 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.....
Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin (Random House) 
Bonnie Jo Campbell, American Salvage (Wayne State University Press) 
Daniyal Mueenuddin, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (W. W. Norton & Co.)
Jayne Anne Phillips, Lark and Termite (Alfred A. Knopf) 
Marcel Theroux, Far North (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

FICTION JUDGES: Alan Cheuse, Junot Díaz, Jennifer Egan, Charles Johnson, Lydia Millet

T. J. Stiles, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (Alfred A. Knopf)
 David M. Carroll, Following the Water: A Hydromancer's Notebook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 
Sean B. Carroll, Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt)
Adrienne Mayor, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (Princeton University Press)

NONFICTION JUDGES: David Blight, Amanda Foreman, Steve Olson, Camille Paglia, John Phillip Santos


  1. Hey, this is too funny that you follow National Book Awards and the Pulitzers. I do Pulitzer predictions for Fiction and Drama every year. It feels like I'm the only person in the world who does it. I'm way more invested in the Pulitzers than National Book Awards, but they're generally a precursor since one of the five finalists usually shows up on the Pulitzer shortlist.

    And we're of the same mind on Shadow Country. I couldn't trudge through it.

  2. Hi Adam,
    I haven't ventured to make predictions on the literary awards, although I do have personal favorites that I hope get citations. I will be very interested to see your Pulitzer predictions....funny how they never announce the finalists until the award is given. Imagine watching the Oscars without knowing the nominees until the show comes on?

    I wonder if this year, Richard Powers or Barbara Kingsolver will be in the running. Drama? Not sure...Tracy Letts new play is lower-profile..... A Steady Rain, perhaps? What are your predictions? I need to catch up a bit.

    I'm very pleased to have you visit here, and I hope you will continue to do so...and keep this cinematic and literary conversation going.


  3. I think a writer writes best about those topics he is genuinely interested in, and I believe that this post proves that. Though I'm not as voracious a reader as you, I can appreciate your enthusiasm and fondness for reading. It's really quite inspiring. Congratulations on a splendid post!