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2010 National Book Award winners announced

By Stephen Lowman

nba_winner.gifOne of the biggest events on the literary calendar was held Wednesday night in New York City. It was there that the winners of the 2010 National Book Awards were announced. This year there were 1,115 total submissions for the categories of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature. The winners are:

Fiction: "Lord of Misrule," by Jaimy Gordon
Nonfiction: "Just Kids," by Patti Smith
Poetry: "Lighthead," by Terrance Hayes
Young people’s literature: "Mockingbird," by Kathryn Erskine
Lifetime achievement award: Tom Wolfe

Jaimy Gordon's win for a story about horse racing, "Lord of Misrule," was perhaps the biggest upset of the night. In the days leading up to the ceremony many prognosticators felt Nicole Krauss's "Great House" was the favorite for the award for fiction.

"Just Kids" author Patti Smith, who won the nonfiction award, is best known for her 1978 song "Because the Night." She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. "There is nothing more beautiful in our material world than the book," said Smith in her acceptance speech.

Kathryn Erskine's "Mockingbird," the winner for young people's literature, touches on the subjects of school shootings and autism.

All the nominees for this year’s fiction and poetry awards were first-time finalists. John Dower, a finalist in the nonfiction category for “Cultures of War,” won the award in 1999 for “Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II.”

finalist1.JPGThe awards have been given out since 1950. This year only American authors with books published in the United States between Dec. 1, 2009 and Nov. 30, 2010 were eligible. Winners in each category receive $10,000 and a bronze sculpture.

Want to know more about the books that were up for the awards? Check out our Totally Hip Video Book Reviewer's take on this year's fiction nominees. And below you’ll find a brief summary of both the fiction and nonfiction finalists, along with links to Washington Post reviews.

Parrot & Olivier in America, by Peter Carey
Carey explores the beginnings of American democracy by way of Alexis de Tocqueville’s famous journey through the United States. In his book, de Tocqueville is fictionalized and recast as Olivier-Jean-Baptiste de Clarel de Garmont. His traveling companion is John Larrit, or Parrot, and their friendship is at the heart of Carey’s story. Our fiction critic Ron Charles wrote that while the book “starts poorly” and the travelogue “stalls too often,” the American reader experiences “the nervous thrill of being critiqued by an outsider.” “The novel's real pleasure, though,” writes Charles, “is watching the development of this ‘most impossible of friendships’ as these two men come to a grudging respect for each other.” Full review

Great House, by Nichole Krauss
Ron Charles writes that Krauss’s story is “built around the possession, the loss and the search for a giant wooden desk of 19 drawers -- one tantalizingly locked. Four main narrators, thousands of miles apart, deliver somber testimonies of their lives and their interactions with this errant piece of furniture.” Compared to Krauss’s previous work, the dazzling “The History of Love,” this book disappoints. “Its beauty is a heavy brocade of grief that won't let these characters soar,” says Charles. Full review

Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon
Set at a racetrack in rural West Virginia where the stakes are usually small and the racers harbor no illusions about their own greatness, Gordon’s story revolves around an older horse named Lord of Misrule. Our reviewer, Jane Smiley, said it is “such a beautifully written novel that I wish I could say that every element works to perfection; I can’t. But for that sense of being steeped in a specific and alien world, it is remarkable.” Full review

So Much for That, by Lionel Shriver
Shriver delves into the timely topic of American health care. It opens with Shep Knacker having sold his handyman business and preparing to move to Tanzania, with or without his wife. Then he learns that, in fact, he cannot make use of his one-way ticket to island paradise. His wife, Glynis, has cancer and she needs his insurance. Medical nightmares ensue. Ron Charles said Shriver’s book “makes us consider the most existential questions of our lives and the dreadful calculus of modern health care in this country…It’s a bitter pill, indeed, but take it if you can.” Full review

I Hotel, by Karen Tei Yamashita
“I Hotel” is composed of 10 linked novellas, each one using a different narrative style, which explore the movement of Asian Americans to California in the 1960s and ‘70s. The book is structured around the inhabitants of San Francisco’s crumbling International Hotel, a real-life space that housed and inspired its inhabitants. “Whether or not ‘I Hotel’ wins the prize,” our reviewer Marcela Valdes writes, “it will be dog-eared and underlined and assigned to college reading lists for generations.” Full review

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick
Demick interviewed hundreds of North Koreans and introduces us to six, all from the provincial town of Chongjin that has been hit hard by famine. Reviewer Stephen Kotkin wrote that the book “conveys the emotional riptides and overall disintegration of stopped factories, unpaid salaries and piled-up corpses.” Full review

Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq, by John W. Dower
In what reviewer Gerard De Groot calls a “consistently perceptive” work, Dower pairs Pearl Harbor with Iraq and, more controversially, Hiroshima with 9-11. The first “demonstrate[s] how otherwise intelligent leaders are drawn toward strategic imbecility.” The second, how “Osama bin Laden and Harry Truman justified wanton killing with essentially the same Manichean rhetoric. Motives, context and scale might have been different; methods were not. For both leaders, the ability to separate good from evil made killing easy.” Full review

Just Kids, by Patti Smith
Smith, an influential rocker who became famous for her critically acclaimed 1975 album “Horses,” has written “a haunted elegy for both her soul mate Robert Mapplethorpe and a lost New York City,” writes our reviewer Elizabeth Hand. The memoir “is one of the best books ever written on becoming an artist -- not the race for online celebrity and corporate sponsorship that often passes for artistic success these days, but the far more powerful, often difficult journey toward the ecstatic experience of capturing radiance of imagination on a page or stage or photographic paper.” Full review

Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, by Justin Spring
In his subject Samuel Steward, the author paints a portrait of homosexual life in the mid-20th century. Spring spent a decade piecing together the life of Steward, who worked as a professor, writer, tattoo artist and pornographer. A review of the book runs Sunday in Outlook.

Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War, by Megan K. Stack
Stack, a foreign correspondent for The Los Angeles Times, writes dispatches from war zones, from Libya to Iraq to Israel. Reviewer Susie Linfield says she comes up short, however. Stack “construct[s] her book as a series of short, staccato chapters that cater to a kind of attention-deficit disorder” and her “insights don't stretch very far, nor are they original or profound.” Full review

By Stephen Lowman  | November 17, 2010; 10:48 PM ET
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