nba longlist: a necessary rant, an inconvenient truth

NBA Longlist 2015

National Book Award Longlist 2015

National Book Award Longlist 2015

Not a word of complaint from this woman: Hanya Yanagihara (YES), Jesse Ball, Lauren Groff, Adam Johnson, Edith Pearlman, Nell Zink, T. Geronimo Johnson, Karen E. Bender, Angela Flournoy…

Oh, wait. Son of a bitch. Bill Clegg.

Nervous pulling of collar.

It’s like this: Did You Ever Have a Family is, how shall I put this… really awful. Bill Clegg is a big name literary critic. I do not question his credentials. However, having attempted and failed to read this novel the words “ungodly terrible” spring to mind.

Adjectives.

Cringe-worthy metaphors and similes.

Crawl out of your skin, teeth-gritting, primal scream of despair prose.

It’s a book in desperate need of an editor – in order to tell Clegg not to have published this book. Hate to resort to this harsh review, because it took my breath away for its candor,  but it’s the truth:

NY Times Review – Sept. 8, 2015

by Dwight Garner

“If you’re not willing to let this confident but shallow novel pour over you, as if you were a Belgian waffle, there’s no point to it at all. Unless you’ve got a funky old gas stove you need to tend to, right now.”

OUCH.

Look at it like this: Bill Clegg is a literary critic. His LinkedIn status is God. If you’re an author there’s an uncomfortable, squirm-in-your-chair with anticipatory angst chance he may someday be assigned something with your name on it. The risk of speaking with bald truth is the chance he’ll go Michiko Kakutani on your ass at some later time, leaving strips of skin stuck to a shirt saturated with your own blood.

While I can’t blame the raw fear, I despise the concept an author would let this stop him or her from honestly stating that which is fact: this book really sucks.

No one relishes facing someone about whom you’ve told an uncomfortable truth but above that, there is literature. There is truth. There is legacy. There is sleeping the sleep of artistic integrity. Knuckling under for fear of reprisal pimps what literature means, reducing it to the lowest common denominator of all:  ego.

Short story long: this is why Bill Clegg’s novel sits on the NBA Longlist, usurping a deserving book. As if we needed reminding: literature prizes are political.

This is a sad truth.

Musings on NBCC Finalists – 2011, redux

So sorry about yesterday's mysterious disappearing post. Once again Typepad gobbled a long piece I'd been working on for more than an hour. It upset me that I'd expended all that time and energy only to lose it all. At least it wasn't a novel, eh? I know, I know, perspective… yadda  yadda. But when you're already having a bad life day stuff like this doesn't do a person any favors.

Regardless, it's embarrassing Tweeting I'd posted a new blog post, only to send visitors to a blank page. And Twitter's customer service? Underwhelming, to say the least. I'm still irate at how little they cared, giving the most cursory response, solving nothing. I've been with them six years, giving them a big chunk of money for the privilege. I could go elsewhere for free, yet I've stayed here. You'd think that would mean something but I suppose apathy rules, as it does pretty much everywhere.

As I'd been saying before my post went amiss, my personal nomination for the fiction prize didn't make the cut. My choice was Goldie Goldbloom's The Paperbark Shoe, the book that was for 2011 what Jon Clinch's Finn was for my 2007 – an unexpected smack to my gob. It's these first-time novelists I love discovering; it's such a rush being among the first to see their skill and future potential. And it was satisfying Finn went on to make a big splash, being added to several university reading lists as a companion to Huckleberry Finn. I can't claim responsibility for all that but I spread the word every chance I got. I can only hope I brought The Paperbark Shoe to a wider reading audience. Who knows? Maybe.

This year's out of nowhere nomination is Dana Spiotta's Stone Arabia. Just so happens I've read it, when The Rumpus chose it as a bookclub selection a few months ago. Because I was late to the discussion and wanted to participate I read it quickly, not giving it much time to impress me. Then again, when a book knocks me sideways I know it right away. The first sentence is key and the first paragraph almost always seals the deal. And that didn't happen with SA. I'll give it one more go but honestly I don't see it as the winner. But just to be nominated is an incredible honor for one of the more obscure titles.

Then there's Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child, another underwhelming read, one I dumped halfway through when a major character fell off the scene, angering me and making me lose interest. Hollinghurst's prose just wasn't there for me, either. I know the critics fell all over themselves praising it. I just don't quite understand why. Maybe it took a turn for the better after I left off but a prize-winning novel shouldn't lose the reader, ever. As with SA, I'll try it one last time, reserving final judgement 'til I do.

Teju Cole's novel Open City was an exception to my first paragraph rule. For the first half to three quarters I would have given it a full five stars, no reservations. Then came a long, dull political screed interrupting the narrative. Political themes are all well and good but don't slip them in halfway through a novel. Give the reader a little inkling what's coming earlier on, include a transition.With no major segue the politics turned a fantastic book into a slog. I didn't even finish the book. And, okay. I'll try it again.

I'm seeing a theme here. You?

That leaves Eugenides and Pearlman, the only two whose nominations I haven't tried. They're both queued up on my Kindle, so I officially own all the fiction finalists. This one category is all I can handle this year but I'll have my pick ready before the board declares the winners in early March. Disclaimer: And, so you know, though I have nomination privileges I have no part or influence over the winners.

Alas, the rest of my original post is lost to the ages. I recreated a lot of the original but it pains me knowing a lot of it was lost. Maybe it would have pained you had my little disaster not happened. Sometimes things work out for the better.

If you have any thoughts on the 2011 nominations/awards I'd love to hear them. Just drop me a comment in the usual place, and, again, sorry about Typepad's gaffe. I'll post thoughts on the fiction finalists as I read. I, for one, will be interested to see if re-reading any books I disliked the first time changes my opinion. Truthfully, I doubt it. Without that prior knowledge my early prediction (and don't hold me to this…) is either Eugenides or Pearlman, though Hollinghurst has gotten an awful lot of critical acclaim. And sometimes awards go to critically beloved books which have been passed over for other awards, intentionally or not I honestly don't know.

One book I'm surprised didn't make the list is Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones. What a masterwork! Yes, she won the National Book Award but frankly I don't think there's an award out there this book doesn't deserve. It's just that magnificent. If she wasn't a consideration I'd be shocked. Guess you can't let every deserving book make it into the finals. I recommend putting this novel on your reading list, if you haven't already. Then try and tell me it didn't deserve a spot here.

Congratulations to all the nominees. I wish you the bet of luck.

But here they are, the finalists for books written in 2011:

 

NBCC Finalists 2011

 

Fiction

Teju Cole, Open City (Random House)

Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger’s Child (Knopf)

Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision (Lookout Books)

Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (Scribner)

 

Nonfiction

Amanda Foreman, A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War (Random)

James Gleick, The Information (Pantheon)

Adam Hochschild, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Maya Jasanoff, Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary War (Knopf)

John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead: Essays (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux)

 

Autobiography

Diane Ackerman, One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing (W.W. Norton)

Mira Bartók, The Memory Palace (Free Press)

Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Harlem Is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America (Little, Brown)

Luis J. Rodríguez, It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing (Touchstone)

Deb Olin Unferth, Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War (Henry Holt)

 

Biography

Mary Gabriel, Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of the Revolution (Little, Brown)

John Lewis Gaddis, George F. Kennan: An American Life (Penguin Press)

Paul Hendrickson, Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961 (Knopf)

Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (Viking)

Ezra F. Vogel, Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (Belknap Press: Harvard University Press)

 

Criticism

David Bellos, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything (Faber & Faber)

Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews (Graywolf)

Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstasy of Influence (Doubleday)

Dubravka Ugresic, Karaoke Culture (Open Letter)

Ellen Willis, Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music (University of Minnesota Press)

 

Poetry

Forrest Gander, Core Samples from the World (New Directions)

Aracelis Girmay, Kingdom Animalia (BOA Editions)

Laura Kasischke, Space, in Chains (Copper Canyon Press)

Yusef Komunyakaa, The Chameleon Couch (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

Bruce Smith, Devotions (University of Chicago Press)