2013 National Book Critics Circle Awards finalists and brief thoughts on the categories

January 14, 2014 § 2 Comments

The National Book Critics Circle Awards are among my favorite Anglo-American literary prizes because the finalists and winners are determined neither by a panel of judges or strict popular vote, but instead by a body of critics and book reviewers.  While I do not always agree with the winners or occasionally may find myself wishing that Book X had made a shortlist instead of Book Y, on the whole it, along with the National Book Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, provides a good sampling of the year’s best works in the English language.  There certainly are some title’s on this year’s lists that intrigue me, although I find myself slightly disappointed that I have already read all five of the Fiction finalists (not that I don’t like them, mind you).  Below are the lists:

Autobiography:
 
Sonali Deraniyagala, “Wave” (Knopf)
Aleksandar Hemon, “The Book of My Lives” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Rebecca Solnit, “The Faraway Nearby” (Viking)
Jesmyn Ward, “Men We Reaped” (Bloomsbury)
Amy Wilentz, “Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti” (Simon & Schuster)

Haven’t read any of these, but the Ward (she won the National Book Award a couple of years ago for her novel Salvage the Bones) intrigues me.

Biography:
 
Scott Anderson, “Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East” (Doubleday)
Leo Damrosch, “Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World” (Yale University Press)
John Eliot Gardiner, “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven” (Knopf)
Linda Leavell, “Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Mark Thompson, “Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kis” (Cornell University Press)

Each of these sounds good, but I plan on buying the Thompson first, due to the author-subject being one of my favorite writers of the 20th century.

Criticism:
 
Hilton Als, “White Girls” (McSweeney’s)
Mary Beard, “Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations” (Liveright)
Jonathan Franzen, “The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus,” translated and annotated by Jonathan Franzen with Paul Reitter and Daniel Kehlmann (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Janet Malcolm, “Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Franco Moretti, “Distant Reading” (Verso)

Out of these, the Beard is the one I most want to read, followed by the Malcolm.
 
Fiction:
 
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Americanah” (Knopf)
Alice McDermott, “Someone” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Javier Marías, “The Infatuations,” translated by Margaret Jull Costa (Knopf)
Ruth Ozeki, “A Tale for the Time Being” (Viking)
Donna Tartt, “The Goldfinch” (Little, Brown) 

I’ve read all five of these (the Marías first in 2011 in Spanish) and I will try to write formal reviews for the four I haven’t yet reviewed (the Ozeki I reviewed in 2013).

Nonfiction:
 
Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice” (Norton)
Sheri Fink, “Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital” (Crown)
David Finkel, “Thank You for Your Service” (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
George Packer, “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Lawrence Wright, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief” (Knopf)

I’ve only read the Packer, which I thought was excellent, and I’m uncertain if I’ll have the time to read the others on this shortlist before the winners are announced.
 
Poetry:
 
Frank Bidart, “Metaphysical Dog” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Lucie Brock-Broido, “Stay, Illusion” (Knopf)

Denise Duhamel, “Blowout” (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Bob Hicok, “Elegy Owed” (Copper Canyon)
Carmen Gimenez Smith, “Milk and Filth” (University of Arizona Press)

I will be reviewing each of the finalists here in the coming weeks.

§ 2 Responses to 2013 National Book Critics Circle Awards finalists and brief thoughts on the categories

  • genrebending says:

    All selections look rather good, though I can only speak with confidence about the fiction ones, having read three out of five. Ozeki is my personal favorite, but Adichie is a very close runner-up.

  • Larry Nolen says:

    I think my ranking of the fiction finalists can be seen in my Dec. 31st post on my Top 25; 3 of the 5 made it (the Marías I first read in Spanish in 2011 and the McDermott just missed it)

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