Saturday, September 10, 2016

National Book Awards

So book award season is fast upon us.

A few weeks ago we got the Man Booker Long List, which I found mostly disappointing, although I am hopeful that Canadian author Madeleine Thien's novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing (which is waiting patiently on my Kobo) gets shortlisted, even though the odds makers seem to suggest it won't be. 

Last week, we got the Scotia Bank Giller Prize Long List, which also included Thien's book as well as several interesting titles by the likes of Emma Donoghue, Mona Awad,  and Steven Price. It's actually a stronger list than the Booker in my opinion. 

Next week, we get the Booker shortlist and most pertinent to this post is the release of the National Book Award fiction long list on September 15. Similar to the Pulitzer, this award is reserved for American authors. However, there is no "American character" requirement in the NBA's award criteria, so theoretically it is a broader award (although the Pulitzer hasn't rigidly followed this requirement in recent years). 

Frankly, it isn't my favourite award and I have not been particularly a fan of recent selections. Last year's winner was Adam Johnson's short story collection, Fortune Smiles, which was decent but not as emotionally powerful or important as finalist A Little Life. Johnson had won the Pulitzer only a couple of years prior for the excellent The Orphan Master's Son, so he really didn't need the award either.  

The year prior to that another short story collection, Phil Klay's Redeployment, won out. I haven't read the collection, partly because I had been disappointed with previous acclaimed books about Iraq and Afghanistan (TheYellow Birds was outright boring and Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk was/is overrated).

Prior to this, the NBA awarded some outstanding novels such as James McBride's The Good Lord Bird (which shamefully I have not read yet, although it sits in my ereader), Louise Erdrich's amazing The Round House, and and Jesmyn Ward's gut-wrenching tale of post-Katrina New Orlean's Salvage The Bones

So it's hit and miss for me, definitely not as dependable as the Pulitzer but maybe more open to acknowledging short stories, which is good in my opinion.

This year offers to be a great year, with the amount of high quality literature being released from American authors. I have a few books in mind that I am guessing will make the short list.

Firstly, the no brainer picks are Colson Whitehead's magically brilliant The Underground Railroad and Yaa Gyasi's powerful tale Homegoing, both having received deafening but well earned praise. They are both fantastic novels and I'd suggest they are the favourites to win this year's NBA.

Louise Erdich is back with the follow up novel to her previous award winning book. LaRose, about the accidental killing of a young boy and the consequences for the Native American families impacted has received a lot of attention. I haven't read it yet but I am confident it will make the long list. Her previous win probably makes it less likely that she'll capture the award this year but a short list is definitely in the cards.

Another strong contender will be Annie Proulx's Barkskins, a monumental tome about French Canadian logging family. It has also received very strong reviews and although the previous Pulitzer winner was surprisingly left off the Booker long list, I think she'll get in here.  

Other books I expect to see are Elizabeth Strout's My Name is Lucy Barton (which people seem to love but which I found tedious and uninspiring), Emma Kline's The Girls (again, I wasn't blown away but the edgy themes explored are the kind of think the NBA seems to like), and Brit Bennet's The Mothers (which should get in based on its beautiful cover alone). 

Possible dark horses that I would like to see included are Emma Straub's endearing Modern Lovers and Stephanie Danler's hilariously sharp book about server culture Sweetbitter. These may feel less profound and important than the othe novelss but they were tons of fun to read and the writing outstanding. 

Two books that I haven't read that may get a look on the long list are also C.E. Morgan's The Sport of Kings and Nathan Hill's debut and very timely political novel, The Nix.

I'll make a follow up post to see how my predictions did.  

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