Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Salon: First thoughts on the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

The National Book Critics Circle, of which I am a member, has announced the finalists for its 2011 awards. None of the five titles I voted for made the cut, but it certainly is an exciting list!

Open City by Teju Cole
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (my review)
The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman (my review)
Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

I've read two of the five finalists already. I'm glad to see Jeffrey Eugenides make the cut, as I think The Marriage Plot is a wise, delightful novel. It's certainly one that appeals to book critics, given all of its overt literature references! It had plenty of hype, but the critical acclaim has been somewhat lacking on prize lists. While I thought Edith Pearlman's story collection Binocular Vision peaked too early (it's first story was it's best), I'm not surprised to see this National Book Award finalist here. As readers of this blog know, I greatly prefer novels to short stories, and this bias may be evident in my uneven reaction to this acclaimed collection of stories.

The three I have yet to read are all on my TBR already. Open City is one of the Tournament of Books contenders, and it's near the top of my TBR pile. Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child made the Booker longlist and the Tournament of Books field. Dana Spiotta's Stone Arabia made Entertainment Weekly's Top 10 of 2011, and I hope to make time for it soon too.

It's easy to focus on what's missing from this list, but I'm choosing to see it as a sign of how many excellent novels were published in 2011. None of these titles are a huge surprise; they've all appeared on another prize list or Best of 2011 list. With the Pulitzer list still to come, I'm still hoping Ben Lerner's majestic Leaving the Atocha Station can make an appearance on its list.

I'll be reviewing the three remaining titles in preparation for the March 8th announcement and bringing you my prediction (and personal preference) before the winner is officially announced.

Now tell me: which title do you think will win the National Book Critics Circle Award? Which one are you rooting for?

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

20 comments:

  1. Hmm I haven't read any of those and don't feel all that excited about any of them. I have a copy of Open City to read and I was initially looking forward to it but I'm afraid I'll Greg bored with it. I think I'll give it a try though and I'll go ahead and read The Marriage Plot. I was looking forward to that as well but I felt like as much as everyone liked that one it didn't live up to the expectations everyone had.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jenny, I thoroughly enjoyed The Marriage Plot, but it was my first Eugenides, so my expectations were more curiosity-based. I had a quibble with the emphasis on a particular character/storyline's dominance, but I find I think of the positive memories more.

      Delete
  2. I read Open City last year and enjoyed it. It is not the most compelling story, but the quality of the writing is excellent, especially for a debut novel.
    The Stranger's Child is one I am planning to read soon, as Alan Hollinghurst is wonderful writer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Graham, I'm glad to know Open City is more about the writing than the story. I think I'll save it for later rather read it on the airplane tomorrow!

      Delete
  3. I haven't read a single one yet (but I will), so I'm not sure who to pull for!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Andi, I'm glad there's such overlap with the Tournament of Books. My TBR is grateful, and I hope I can still read all of both lists before the first week of March! I'll look forward to sharing thoughts on these titles in the coming weeks (or months or years!)

      Delete
  4. I am listening to The Marriage Plot right now, and loving it! It's so intellectual, but also really human and fun. I am about halfway through, and things are heating up. There is a character named Thurston Meems in the story, and every time he appears I smirk to myself, because I can't wait for the pretentiousness to start pouring out of his mouth. Great book!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so glad you're loving this one on audio! I can't wait to hear your final thoughts!

      Delete
  5. I haven't read any of those, but I am with you in that I cannot handle short story collections very well either. I want to read Stone Arabia and Stranger's Child. I don't feel too keen about the other three though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm intrigued by Stone Arabia. I'm surprised by how much buzz it's getting lately!

      Delete
  6. The only one I've read is The Marriage Plot, so it's got my vote. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  7. I keep hearing good things about The Marriage Plot. I need to just read it already!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I am split on the Marriage Plot. In one sense I liked it quite a bit, but in another, I hated it. I haven't written the review yet.

    Last night I officially kicked The Stranger's Child to the curb. After 200 pages and not having a clue what was going on or really, what the point was, I ditched it. I was upset too because I really like the way it opened.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ti, I'm curious to read your Marriage Plot review now! I had somewhat mixed feelings too, but I still loved it!

      Delete
  9. I'm going to be honest The Marriage Plot is the only one on this list that I really want to read. Obvioulsy I want to see what you think of all of them though!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think The Marriage Plot has the most appeal to many! Stone Arabia might be a dark horse though!

      Delete
  10. I just started Open City this weekend, and it feels like a conversation with an intelligent, well-read person. I'll get to Eugenides in March for my book club. I always like his stuff while I'm reading, but it fades quickly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rebecca, you've intrigued me with your description of Open City. It's near the top of my pile! I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on Marriage Plot too.

      Delete

Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!