Thursday, October 20, 2011

National Book Awards: The Finalists

Now that the Man Booker award has been handed out, attention turns back to our side of the pond, where the finalists for the 2011 National Book Award were recently.

I generally don't put much stock in the award.  By and large, the judges seem to value heartwarming, feel good stories (and in particular, those that deal with race and class) more than literary merit.  In addition, the Award is a little bit too enamored of first-time authors -- perhaps there are some guilty feelings still lingering from 1986, when they stopped giving out a separate award for "First Work of Fiction."  In any case, is it really possible to make the case that Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain was a better book than Don DeLillo's Underworld?

But sometimes the right novels do win, and in any case, there are almost always some great writers among the finalists -- authors like Peter Matthiessen, Tom Wolfe and Peter Carey (who has dual citizenship, and thus eligible for both the Booker and the National Book Award!)

So, let's see.  This year gives us, Andrew Krivak, Tea Obreht, Julie Otsuka, Edith Pearlman and Jesmyn Ward. 

If you are shaking your head asking, "Who?" you are not alone.

Perhaps the award committee was looking for books they could read quickly: the average length of these five boks is 274 pages.  (Curiously, the average length of the books on the Booker shortlist, with its newfound emphasis on "readability" was 275 pages.)

More significantly, this relatively anonymous list simply represents the fact that it's been a slow year for novels by American citizens. 

Still, I certainly would have expected to seeTeju Cole on the list for Open City.

Who do you think was snubbed in 2011?

Related posts:
Review: The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes)
DeLillo on Baseball


  1. I absolutely agree with you that Teju Cole was overlooked. I did read that Kravak book and it was quite literary and I was impressed with --can't say that I loved it, because I felt I was held at a remove from the story and thus didn't emotionally connect with it. But I think it's a fine piece of writing--same publisher as Tinkers, which surprised many people when it won the Pulitzer. (I never finished Tinkers--the story actually bored me but the writing was beautiful.

    And yeah, in case it's not obvious, I'm a new follower. Can't believe how many posts you manage to write!

  2. Thanks for dropping by! Perhaps I'll check out the Kravak book, once I get some of my other winter reading done. There has just been so much literary fiction about World War One over the years, it's hard to get excited about yet another novel that covers the same ground.