Archive for January, 2013

nbcc_logo_300Ben Fountain’s wise, surprising Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco), Michael Gorra’s expansive Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece (A Liveright Book: W. W. Norton), Marina Warner’s magical Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights (Belknap Press: Harvard University Press), and Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House), this year’s National Book Award winner in nonfiction, are among the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle book awards for the publishing year 2012. All together 30 books are finalists in six categories—autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

The board of the National Book Critics Circle also announced that the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing has been awarded to William Deresiewicz, a contributing writer for The Nation and a contributing editor for The New Republic and The American Scholar. For the first time in its 26-year history, the Balakian Citation carries with it a $1,000 cash prize, thanks to a generous donation by NBCC member Gregg Barrios. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar will receive the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award for their pioneering work in feminist thought, which revolutionized criticism.

The fiction finalists range widely in venue, from Laurent Binet’s HHhH (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman winner about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, to Zadie Smith’s London-set NW (The Penguin Press) and Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son (Random House), which offers frightening insight into Kim Jong Il’s North Korea. Like Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Binet’s HHhH, an exploration of the act of fictionalizing history, is a first novel.

The biography finalists include Robert A. Caro’s The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Alfred A. Knopf), as well as books on intriguing corners of history not so often explored: Tom Reiss’s The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (Crown Publishers), about General Dumas, father of the famous novelist; Lisa Cohen’s All We Know: Three Lives (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), about early 20th-century trend setters Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta, and Madge Garland; and Lisa Jarnot’s Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus: A Biography (University of California Press).

This year’s autobiography finalists include both profound personal meditations from Maureen N. McLane (My Poets. Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Leanne Shapton (Swimming Studies. Blue Rider Press) and views of cross-cultural experience from Mexican American author Reyna Grande (The Distance Between Us. Atria Books), Kenya-born Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (In the House of the Interpreter. Pantheon), and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid (House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), who died shortly before release of his memoir about rebuilding his great-grandfather’s estate in Lebanon.

The poetry finalists demonstrated mastery of craft, ranging from David Ferry’s Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations (University of Chicago Press), also this year’s National Book Award winner, to Kingsley Tufts Award winner D. A. Powell’s Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (Graywolf Press), and MacArthur fellow A.E. Stallings’s Olives (Triquarterly: Northwestern University Press), whose work reflects her study of the classics and love of Greece, where she now lives. Nonfiction, too, had masters, including PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel and National Magazine award winner David Quammen (Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. W.W. Norton) and 2001 National Book Award winner Andrew Solomon (Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. Scribner).

Winners of the National Book Critics Circle book awards will be announced on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, at 6 pm at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium. A finalists’ reading will be held on February 27, 2013, also at 6:00 p.m. at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium.

Founded in 1974 in New York City, the NBCC is the sole award bestowed by working critics and book-review editors. For more information on the history of the NBCC awards, see bookcritics.org.


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My friend Emily Frankel ponders the death of two artists she admired and what they would have thought about what was written about them in their obituaries (http://www.emtalkery.blogspot.com/2013/01/two-atists-left-world.html.) With the sudden passing of a high school friend this week, this is on my mind.
My response to Em’s question “What would YOU want said about you?” was this: “That I served the Lord to the best of my ability, that I loved my husband and children well and that I was a good and faithful friend.” What is yours?

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