Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Critics' Group NBCC Picks Huneven Among the Nominees for Prize--Everything Else is Gravy

It turns out that most major awards are determined by fellow writers? (Note to insiders--remember that the prime market here is my customer. Only maybe you've not really thought about it either).

National Book Award--writers
Man Booker--writers
Nobel Prize--friends of King Carl XVI Gustaf, some of them writers
Thurber Prize for Humor--writers, including last year's nominee Sloane Crosley, whose new book, How Did You Get This Number, is coming out in June. I still would like to get to 100 copies sold of her last book. If we can do this, we will have cake. We're in the 60's.

Et cetera.

But the National Book Critics Circle award actually comes from professional book reviewers, those other people (well, besides booksellers) we count on to find out what to read. There's a board (our former book editor from the Journal Sentinel, Geeta Sharma Jensen, was on that and so I occasionally got to hear some inside, thought not secret, scoop) and though many critics do write books as well (Boswell fave The Magicians was written by Time magazine book critic Lev Grossman, for example), it's certainly not required.

Of course, all other nominees were a blur after seeing Michelle Huneven's Blame nominated for the NBCC award for fiction. Man Booker winner Hilary Mantel and National Book Award nominee Bonnie Jo Campbell were also among the nominated in fiction.

In some ways, the NBCC puts more focus on serious nonfiction, with four categories--biography, autobiography, criticism, and nonfiction--in which to spread the love. The nonfiction then becomes a catchall of history and social criticism. It's also my thought that so many categories dillutes the impact. What we find in the store is that an already buzzed-about book that wins in one of these categories will have a greater pop, but it's hard for a title without too much momentum to break out, the way it can in fiction (which, as you'll notice, is not divided into genres and short vs. long form, or anything else).

I find it interesting that so many of the strong biographies last year were of literary figures. Instead of the Raymond Carver bio that the New York Times touted, nominees included Brad Gooch's Flannery O'Connor and Blake Bailey's John Cheever. In fact, the two lists (NBCC vs. NYT) had no fiction books in common, although they did share several nonfiction titles.
Perhaps they should do what the Kosta (formerly Whitbread) Prize does, and make the various nonfiction prizes battle it out for a superprize.


While we're talking lauds, note that local fave Dwellephant's graphic novel Missing the Boat was named by Comic Book Resources to be one of the top 100 comics of 2009. Click here for some of the list (including MTB) and link to the rest.

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