NBA Fiction Finalists

Well, that feels strange. Just a couple of hours after I wrote a post mentioning Carolyn See’s review of Telex from Cuba, the book is one of the surprise National Book Award finalists for fiction (but every book on the list is regarded as a surprise of some sort).

At least initially, the fiction nominees seem to have raised the most eyebrows, so we’ll look at them first.

Who was overlooked? Toni Morrison (whose A Mercy comes out in a few weeks, but falls within the time period for the nominees), John Updike (The Widows of Eastwick) and  Philip Roth (Indignation).

Ron Charles, in the Washington Post Book World‘s blog, “Short Stack”, said, “I’ve come to expect a strange, disappointing fiction list from the National Book Awards, and this year is no exception.” He feels that the omission of Roxana Robinson’s Cost is enough to make him question the entire endeavor. I agree; it is one of the books from this year that lingers in my mind long after reading it.

Telex from Cuba received many strong reviews, including a NYT BR cover review (unusual for a debut novel) and a People Pick.

Libraries own it, in modest quantities and are still working through reserves. It’s also available in audio from Tantor; half the libraries I checked own the audio version.

Telex from Cuba 

Rachel Kushner

  • Hardcover: $25.00
  • Publisher: Scribner (July 1, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 141656103X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416561033
  • Unabridged CD: 11 Audio CDs (Library Binder Pkg), $69.99
  • Reader: Lloyd James
  • Pub. Date: July, 2008
  • ISBN-13: 978140038340

The other first novelist nominee is even more of a surprise. Salvatore Scibona’s The End received little attention from critics. It got a strong review in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (the book is set in Cleveland in the ’50’s and the author grew up there), which said its “atavistic ambition is off-putting and breathtaking.” It was starred by Publisher Weekly, who called it a “literary tour de force.”

The large libraries I checked own it in small quantities (unsurprisingly, Cleveland area libraries have the largest number of copies and reserves).
The End
Salvatore Scibona
  • Hardcover: $24; 320 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (May 13, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1555974988
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555974985
Even though Peter Matthiessen is no stranger to the National Book Awards (he won for his nonfiction title, The Snow Leopard in 1979), the nomination for Shadow Country was a surprise, since it is a reworking of three previously published books, “The Watson Trilogy”; Killing Mr. Watson, Lost Man’s Legend, and Bone by Bone. The New York Times BR called it
…not a restoration of the original version but a substantial revision and the kind of rendering done in slaughterhouses, a reduction of the trilogy’s 1,300-plus pages to a more easily consumed 900 or so.
Peter Matthiesen
Shadow Country
  • Hardcover: $40; 912 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (April 8, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0679640193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679640196
Nominee Aleksander Hemon got the nod for his second novel, The Lazarus Project, which was widely reviewed. The NYT BR called it a “…remarkably entertaining, chronicle of loss and hopelessness and cruelty..”
Libraries own it in greater quanities than any of the previous titles.
The Lazarus Project
Aleksandar Hemon
  • Hardcover: $24.95; 304 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead (May 1, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1594489882
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594489884
The nomination of Marilynne Robinson’s Home is questioned by some critics who felt her previous book, Gilead (which did not receive a nomination when it was published but did win the Pulitzer Prize that year) was a better book than Home. The redoutable James Wood, in the New Yorker, called Gilead, “the most unconventional conventionally popular novels of recent times.” Unlike several other critics, Wood sees the two novels as equally important.
Home is the most widely reviewed of all the titles, and generally owned by libraries in greater quantites than any of the other nominees. It also has the largest reserve lists.
Marilynne Robinson
  • Hardcover: $25
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; (September 2, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0374299102
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374299101
  • Audio CD: Unabridged edition; $44.95
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio;  (September 2, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1427205108
  • ISBN-13: 978-1427205100
  • Audio CD: 10 CD; Unabridged; $94.95
  • Narrator: Maggi-Meg Reed
  • Publisher: BBC America
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-7927-5634-7    
  • Large Print, Hardcover: $34.95; 525 pages
  • Publisher: Thorndike Press; Lrg edition (September 2, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 141040742X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1410407429

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