Wednesday, November 16, 2011

National Book Award 2011: Thoughts & Predictions

Tonight, the winners of this year's National Book Awards will be announced. I mostly follow the fiction category, but I'm always excited to see which authors win across the board. This year in particular, several of the young adult and non-fiction titles sound quite appealing.

For the first time, the National Book Foundation is offering a live webcast of the ceremony on its website. It starts tonight at 8 p.m. New York City time. I'll be watching live (perhaps even from my Kindle Fire, which is set to arrive today!)

I managed to read all five of the fiction finalists this year, and I can honestly say I would be happy if any of them win. While I certainly have my favorites (more on that soon), the five titles are incredibly diverse and represent a fascinating combination of American voices in fiction. Although I had hopes for other titles to appear on the list, I welcome reading prize lists to discover titles I likely otherwise wouldn't have.

It is incredibly difficult to compare these titles on the basis of quality. Each is exceptional and worth a read, even though none earned a five-star rating from me. It is likely none will make my Best of 2011 reading list either, yet I would be happy for any of these authors. Despite issues I had with many of these titles, I do believe each is capable of even better things in their future careers. Granted, the National Book Award is not a rising star award, but it feels like one this year.

Part of my happiness with this list is its honoring of young and, largely, not terribly well known authors. Tea Obreht is arguably the best known, as she won the Orange Prize earlier this year. Only Obreht and Pearlman have Wikipedia pages (not a mark of their careers, certainly, but a testament to their fame.)

Here are my final thoughts on these five finalists:
The Sojourn  by Andrew Krivak (my full review)
"Although I struggled through more than half of this short novel, the slow part was bookended by a haunting beginning and a beautiful ending. I find myself remembering the strengths and not focusing on the weaknesses. Krivak is a strong writer, and I hope his next novel is stronger and more consistent. The Sojourn is a difficult novel, but fans of historical literary fiction and novels of war will likely find enough great to balance the boring here."

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht (my full reveiew)
"Despite adoring Obreht's writing, the novel as a whole was hit or miss for me. I enjoyed parts of it but was bored by other parts. Overall, brilliant writing wasn't enough to make me love this novel, but it will leave me eagerly awaiting the next novel Tea Obreht writes."

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (my full review)
"Unlike anything I've ever read, The Buddha in the Attic is a mesmerizing journey of what life was like for the Japanese picture brides."

Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories by Edith Pearlman (my review)
"Binocular Vision is a tour de force of short stories. As a novel-lover, however, I found myself searching for a common theme to tie together these disparate stories. While short story lovers will celebrate this collection of Pearlman's work, both new and old, I found myself hoping for another story as perfect and magical as 'Inbound.'"

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (my review)
"Overall, I found the action uneven. I wanted more character action and less descriptions of the dogs. West painted a scene of one fractured family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, but I wish it were more focused on Esch than the supporting characters. The other characters were strong, but I wanted more Esch. She's a dynamic, troubled woman, and she continues to fascinate me."

So who will win?

If I got a vote, my pick to win would be: The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

I predict the actual judges will pick: Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman

Update: The judges chose Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones, a worthy winner. Kudos!

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  1. Loved reading your thoughts -- can't wait to see what does end up winning. Interesting to see that none of the five finalists were a best of this year or a 5 star read -- has that happened in previous years?

  2. Wow good job reading all five shortlisted novels. That's impressive. I look forward to hearing who wins and comparing it to your guesses :)

  3. I'm so glad you posted this! I work late tonight and I will most certainly take advantage of the live webcast to watch and find out the winner.

  4. @Audra - No! With all the awards lists I've read (either partially or in full), there has always been a five star read, yet this is the first time I'm happy for any of these authors to win.

    @Brenna - Thanks! Now that I'm picked two of the five, one of the other three is sure to win:-)

    @Andi - I'm thrilled to be able to watch the webcast this year. Following along on Twitter the last few years was frustrating:-)

  5. I'm impressed that you read the five finalists -- I had good intentions, but didn't make it.

    Yes, I'm thrilled about the live broadcast; I'm hoping the kids get settled early and I can watch it.

  6. Congratulations on finishing the list! I love the fact that you found them to be of a high standard in general. Buddha in the Attic is the one that attracts me most so I'll keep my fingers crossed for you.

  7. I loved Buddha in the Attic, so I would have been happier had it won. I also have Salvage the Bones at home, which I now can't wait to read.

  8. I had hoped that The Buddha in the Attic would win, as my review goes up tomorrow, and I just loved the book. I didn't much care for Salvage the Bones, but that may have been due to my sensitivity towards animals.

  9. You did a great job reading all of these contenders. Most are on my TBR list.


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