National Book Award Finalists Announced

It's only been 12 hours since the Man Booker Prize was announced in London, but here come the finalists for the National Book Awards. You can watch a video of mystery writer Scott Turow delivering the news in Chicago.

I've come to expect a strange, disappointing fiction list from the National Book Awards, and this year is no exception. Then again, I know I'm suffering from Reader's Bias (RB): Books I've read are always better than books I haven't read. And I've not read four of the five on this list:

  • Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project (Riverhead)

  • Rachel Kushner's Telex from Cuba (Scribner)

  • Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country (Modern Library)

  • Marilynne Robinson's Home (FSG)

  • Salvatore Scibona's The End (Graywolf)
  • But people I trust loved some of these books: Our Friday reviewer, Carolyn See, raved about Telex from Cuba, and David Leavitt had high praise for Hemon's Lazarus Project. I thought Robinson's Home was a masterful piece of writing, but it's far more demanding than her Gilead, a better novel that wasn't nominated in 2004, when the NBA sent up perhaps its most peculiar fiction list ever. And for some reason, the NBA is perpetuating FSG's specious claim that Home is not a sequel to Gilead but "an entirely independent" novel. Sure . . .

    Frankly, I can't trust any list of the best 2008 fiction that doesn't include Roxana Robinson's Cost.

    Book World editor Marie Arana is chair of the nonfiction list:

  • Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (Knopf)

  • Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (Norton)

  • Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (Doubleday)

  • Jim Sheeler, Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives (Penguin)

  • Joan Wickersham, The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order (Harcourt)

  • What's your reaction to the list? Good choices? What did they miss?

    -- Ron Charles, fiction editor

    By Ron Charles |  October 15, 2008; 12:20 PM ET Ron Charles
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    Please email us to report offensive comments.

    Marilynne Robinson lays out the reasons why Home is not a sequel to Gilead in the current issue of The Paris Review. That's straight from the mouth of the author, THE person who ought to know.

    Having never associated with smug, witless literary critics, The Paris Review and its conversations with real live writers may not be things Mr. Charles is familiar with.

    Posted by: bkp | October 15, 2008 3:04 PM

    Here's a link to that Paris Review interview bkp mentioned:

    I'm too stuck in New Criticism (not to mention my smug, witless ways) to think an author is the final authority on the meaning of her work, but it's an interesting piece of the puzzle.

    Posted by: Ron Charles | October 15, 2008 3:18 PM

    Admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery.

    Posted by: bkp | October 16, 2008 9:59 AM

    If only he did have a problem...

    In other news, I've heard Shadow Country is fantastic. Michael Dirda reviewed it elsewhere -

    Posted by: keele864 | October 16, 2008 11:15 AM

    Mr. Charles forgot to mention the poets (tsk, tsk!). The finalists are Frank Bidart for Watching the Spring Festival; Mark Doty for Fire to Fire, Reginald Gibbons for Creatures of a Day; Richard Howard for Without Saying; Patricia Smith for Blood Dazzler.

    Posted by: James | October 21, 2008 12:16 PM

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