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)

 

To make a long story even longer…

Such a long time since I've had the luxury to sit down and just chat. I miss that. So much going on here I barely know what day it is. And I'm exhausted. I'm not sure if it's age, unaccustomed activity or what but I feel like I was hit by a truck after all the activity this week. Don't get me wrong, it was all fun stuff. At least there's that.

One bad thing about resurfacing is finding autumn's passing quickly and I've hardly had time to appreciate it very much. It isn't spectacular around here, though. Not sure why. We don't seem to have enough of the brilliantly-colored trees for that WOW factor. Some spots are nice. Driving from here to Dundee – the locals will know – is always pretty impressive. There's one area, where town turns into farmland, where the trees arch over the road, making a glowing, golden tunnel. It's pure magic. I haven't been that way lately to know if that's already done. Maybe I'll check that out this weekend but I'm afraid I won't like the answer.

Within the family circle, the biggest thing going is my daughter is applying to, and hearing back from, colleges. She's gotten a couple acceptances but so far not from her top choice schools. There's not really been enough turnaround time yet, though. I'm shocked any of them have had the chance to already say yes. But it's a good sign none have declined. Kid's brainy, though, on both left and right sides. She lucked out, getting her dad's math abilities and her mum's literature genes. I think she'll do okay.

Do you want to hear a quick run-down of the past couple weeks in literary events?

 

Zoneone

First, my review of Colson Whitehead's Zone One is up at BookBrowse.com. This was a real out of my comfort zone (no pun intended) novel. Post-Apocalyptic zombie fiction isn't something I'd normally go for but I snapped this one up with Whitehead's name attached. I hadn't read any of his novels. I needed to remedy that and now that I have read his stuff I only want to read more. I picked up his Sag Harbor. And I'll read that when…?

Hold onto that idea. It'll resurface here before too much time has passed.

I believe I mentioned seeing/talking briefly with Sebastian Barry, when he was in the Chicago area for his On Canaan's Side book tour. He was so, so kind, so patient with this insane avid fan. For each I wrote a different inscription request on a Post It note. He didn't humor all my requests, but was gentleman enough to scribble out a couple custom inscriptions.

On Canaan's Side

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Translation from the original Sanskrit:

To my muse, my inspiration.

With profound affection,

Sebastian Barry

2011

 

A Long, Long Way

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Translation:

There are not words enough to express

my gratitude.

Yours, gratefully,

Sebastian Barry

 

The Secret Scripture

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Translation:

Now you're starting to creep me out.

Please leave before I call security.

Love, until the sun ceases to shine,

Sebastian Barry

Then there was Chris Bohjalian. From his signing I learned, among other things, when one is told to "brace for impact" in a plane crash it's necessary to keep both feet on the floor, lest you break both your legs from the force of hitting the ground, slightly inhibiting your chances of getting out alive. He didn't learn this from real life experience, thank goodness. It was from research for his current book The Night Strangers.


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And, Midwives

 

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Tuesday of this week found me at the Illinois Library Association Conference 2011 Author Dinner. Seems like forever ago I booked Goldie Goldbloom and Elizabeth Berg on behalf of our library. And they were stellar choices, if I do say so myself.

And I do.

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ILA set up author tables for each library's author attendees. A local indie bookseller sold copies of the books. Signees then had to roam for signatures.

Pretty swag event, no? A real class act. The Intercontinental O'Hare was magnificent. Just magnificent. The art alone was impressive. Here's my personal favorite piece, an artist's rendition of the interconnectedness of all points on earth:

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Pretty cool, no?

And speaking of pretty cool:

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Authors Elizabeth Berg and Goldie Goldbloom, plus our library Director and incoming ILA President Lynn Elam.

But that's not all:

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Who might that man be, gazing over his glasses?

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Honey, he not only might be, he is Michael Cunningham.

Cunninghamworks
And he's a wonderful, down to earth, kind man. Pulitzer Prize? What Pulitzer Prize!

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He's just a really nice guy. Who happens to have a brilliant mind.

Okay. He's not just anything but incredible.

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Thank you to:

Lynn Elam and the Algonquin Area Public Library District for making me a part of ILA 2011

Goldie Goldbloom and Elizabeth Berg for honoring us with their attendance

after-words Indie bookshop for providing all the books

And Michael Cunningham, for being Michael Cunningham

 

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What a couple of weeks.

 

Sunday Salon: October 9, 2011 Edition

Sundaysalon 

 

Banned Books Week 2011 has been and gone.

My Booker Shortlist read has stalled, and besides, I promised Sebastian Barry (swoon) I'm putting all my karma on a Julian Barnes win. So I'm calling it: Julian Barnes for The Sense of an Ending. Never lie to an Irishman. Especially when it comes to karma. And when he's as fantastically, unearthly amazing as Sebastian Barry. Who should have won the Booker himself!

Dammit.

Not that Barnes's work isn't mind blowingly great. Oh, it is. It's great in the lean, concise style I love. And Barry's great in the poetic, soul-touching way. I love them both but I shall always feel bitter about Man Booker 2011.

 

Senseofending 

 

Reading news? I'm working on S.J. Watson's fantabulous Before I Go to Sleep. Ironically, it's been keeping me up nights.

 

Beforegotosleep 

 

Ditto Nimrod's Shadow by Chris Paling.

 

Nimrodsshadow 

I've also been downloading free eBooks from Amazon, long-forgotten older works someone should be reading. So I've elected me.

And the titles are occasionally hilarious:

Poise: How to Attain It

The Spinster Book

Books Fatal to Their Authors

Little Fuzzy

The Real Dope

The Unspeakable Gentleman

and, one of my personal favorites:

Space Viking

 

Also finished up Colson Whitehead's Zone One for review. Never thought I'd be so intrigued by zombie literature but it's heavily character-driven, written in Whitehead's lush style. I thought it a bit heavy-handed at first but it started to grow on me. Ignore the flippin' Amazon reviews. I'm not sure who's writing them, nor do I care why they've been so down on it.

The problem may be its style, actually. I found it perfect for this particular book but it does come off sounding fairly … Not sure how to put it. Dismissive? Aloof? Something like that. But my advice is to read it. It's started me on a Colson Whitehead hunt. I picked up Sag Harbor at one of the Borders funerals. Once I finish that I'll eventually get through his other stuff. Have you read his articles? Holy mother of God.

Plus, the cool of that man is legendary.

 

Colsonwhitehead

 

Need I elaborate? Didn't think so.

Post-apocalyptic fiction? I guess I was pretty enthralled by Stephen King's The Stand, back in my teens. I read the whole honkin' thing straight through, barely coming up for air. For food, rather and the occasional bathroom break. I holed up in  my bedroom with it; I could not put the thing down. Dismiss Stephen King all you will but The Stand is a fine, fine novel. Much better than that Dan Brown thriller crap as far as page-turners go.

 

Next week I'm meeting Chris Bohjalian, on his The Night Strangers tour. He's coming to the Waukegan Library on the 10th and I already okayed a short interview/chat with him. Excited for that.

May get to the Bill Bryson reading/signing via Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, IL, too. Only that's one of those auditorium events. And I'm not sure I have the energy to chat up his agent for an interview. Lacking that, I'm sure he's a fun speaker. He's a damn funny writer. Maybe I will.

Week after that, Michael Cunningham, Goldie Goldbloom and Elizabeth Berg.

Sweeeet.

And that's it for now from Bluestalking Headquarters.