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Friday, September 19, 2014

Long List for the Fiction National Book Award

Yesterday they announced the long list for the National Book Awards. We have nine of the ten on the list and I am not enthused about the tenth one. Unless I get requests for it, I am not going to purchase it. So, another list, this time 9 of the titles that made the list.

Molly Antopol's The UnAmericans is a short-story collection. Antopol was recognized as one of the "5 under 35" authors by the National Book Foundation in 2013. This is her debut work and is a masterful study of characterization. All the stories have political elements and range from Communist-era Prague to McCarthyism LA.

John Darnielle's Wolf in White Van is another debut work. Darnielle is the lead musician for the band the Mountain Goats. There are some who have read this who say 'they just don't get it' but most find it amazing and life changing. Life changing????? That is what at least 2 of them said. The main character is Sean Phillips - a disfigured man who loses himself in fantasy and role playing games. The consequences of this are devastating. Sean's story unfolds in reverse.

Next comes All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I have talked about this one before. This one made the May LibraryReads list. This is the story of a blind French girl and a young German male orphan - one in Paris and one in Berlin - and how they try to survive during the build up to World War II. It has been called moving, compelling and enthralling by reviewers.

Phil Klay's Redeployment is another book of short stories. Klay, a former Marine who fought in Iraq, captures the terror, boredom and occasional humor of war in his debut collection. The Washington Post called it "the most compelling depictions to date of the Iraq war, and especially of the psychic toll it continues to exact on those who fought in it.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is another one I've talked about. This one just came out on the 9th of this month and we do not have our copies in yet although they have been on order. I'm sure they will make it within a week or two.This one made the September LibraryReads list and I said " Every reviewer who has read it, praises it dramatically. People have said things like " This is a beautiful, gripping novel told by a masterful hand." It is dystopian fiction when a strain of the swine flu (called Georgia flu by the way) wipes out 99% of the world's population. The remaining people settle in outposts but the story centers on a troupe of traveling Shakespearean actors that perform at the outposts. There is the feeling that just to survive is not enough and that the apocalypse is a way to reinvent freedom."

Elizabeth McCracken has a book of short stories on the list, Thunderstruck & Other Stories. This is her first collection of stories in 20 years. Most of them deal with some kind of loss of love or loneliness. McCracken's writing has been described as exquisite and a true marvel. These stories range from a grocery store manager who obsesses about a missing women to one about a man mourning his wife. Along with the heartbreak are moments of humor.

Orfeo by Richard Powers is next. He is a frequent award winner or nominee. He even made the long list (although not the short) for the Booker Award this year for this title. This one focuses on composer Peter Els who is experimenting with inserting musical notes into the DNA of bacteria in a home microbiology lab. He draws the attention of Homeland Security and goes on the run. This is the one for those who like cerebral literary fiction.

Next comes Marilynne Robinson's Lila. These last two books are not even being published until October and they are on order but you can't read them yet. Robinson has the reputation of being the greatest novelist of our time and has won the Pulitzer, the National Book Critic Award, the Hemingway PEN award and been nominated from practically everything. This title is the final book in a trilogy set in the town of Gilead, Iowa. This one centers on Lila, a disturbed young woman who marries the local Reverend.

Lastly, Jane Smiley's Some Luck also out in October. Another LibraryReads title that we discussed.
Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction; she has chaired the judges panel for the prestigious Man Booker Prize and she has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. It should not be a surprise that her next novel, Some Luck, the beginning of a trilogy celebrating family farming, made the list. Out on Oct. 7th, Smiley's first book in the trilogy follows the lives of an Iowan farm family over 30 years beginning in 1920. 

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