Wednesday, 14 October 2009

2009 National Book Award

This afternoon the 5 finalists for the 2009 National Book Award were announced.

Previous winners include behemoths like Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (1974) and Gaddis's JR (1976), and the tradition of honouring Epic-with-a-capital-E novels has continued ever since: the most recent winner was Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country, an 800-page re-telling of the life and death of the Everglades outlaw Edgar J. Watson (1855-1810).

This year's nominees are, in that sense, a little surprising:
Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann (link to video)
Irish/American b.1965, 368pp (An Irish family in 1970s New York, centred around the famous tightrope walk): 7th book, 5th novel. A previous book won the Rooney Prize and Irish Novel of the Year Award.
Far North, Marcel Theroux (link to opening pages)
British/American (Paul's son, Louis's older brother) b.1968, 304pp (Post-apocalyptic Siberia): 4th novel. Previous book won Somerset Maugham Award.
Lark and Termite, Jayne Anne Phillips (link to interview podcast)
b. 1952, 272pp (1950s family in West Virginia and Korean war): 9th book, 4th novel. Previous book won Massachusetts Book Award. Also received Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowments, and taught at Harvard.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Daniyal Mueenuddin (link to reading of final story)
Pakistani/American b.1963, 256pp (8 short stories set in Punjab): 1st book.
American Salvage, Bonnie Jo Campbell (link to first two stories)
b.1963?, 170pp (14 short stories about Michigan poverty): 4th book (incl. 1 novel)

All 5 books are shorter than 400 pages, and 2 are collections of short stories... Perhaps the Award is changing its focus? (Or, perhaps it's just time to read these books.) Another interesting point to note: with the notable exception of Jayne Anne Philips, all 5 were born within a five-year span in the mid 1960s...

Oh, and 3 of the 5 authors would not call themselves 'American' at all.

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