Much like film buffs look forward to January and February and the hype hovering around the Oscars and Golden Globes awards, fall is the literary awards season — and, hence, an exciting time for book dorks like me. Here's a brief rundown of the goings-on so far:
The season kicked off on Tuesday, with the announcement of the Man Booker Prize, which is basically England's equivalent of our National Book Award. The Prize was awarded to Hilary Mantel for her novel about King Henry VIII titled Wolf Hall. Even though the novel won't be released in the U.S. until next Tuesday, it quickly shot up the amazon best-sellers list, currently holding fast at #4.
Secondly, the most prestigious literary prize of the year was awarded this morning — and if you had Romanian-born poet and novelist Herta Muller (pictured, left) in your Nobel Prize for Literature pool, well, drinks are on you! The Swedish Academy continued its penchant for picking rather obscure European writers whose works chronicle some sort of struggle against injustice. Sure, that's admirable, but that criteria totally ignores what the Prize seemingly should be — a lifetime achievement award recognizing a body of critically acclaimed literature. Every year I root for the very-deserving American writers like Thomas Pynchon, Joyce Carol Oates, Don DeLillo, and (one of my absolute favorite novelists) Philip Roth. And every year I'm disappointed. You can go here for a list of winners. There hasn't been an American winner since Toni Morrison in 1993.
Finally, rounding out the season, the National Book Award — which recognizes the best American-published book of the year, as decided on by a panel of judges selected by the National Book Foundation — will be announced November 18th. If I were a voter, I'd definitely pick Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. This novel about Ethiopian twins who grow up to be doctors was published in February, and has steadily gained word-of-mouth momentum and overwhelmingly positive reviews since. It's a fantastic read! As a dark horse candidate (i.e., no real chance in hell), I'm rooting for The Song Is You, by Arthur Phillips. This sweet, lyrical novel about a man's muse/artist relationship with an up-and-coming singer, is easily the best book I've read this year, but it didn't sell too well, so it probably won't get a look.
(One note: the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was announced back in late May - won by the book of short stories titled Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout.)