Thursday, October 15, 2009

NBA Nominations: Where Obscurity Happens

With apologies to hoops fans, the book-dork meaning of the acronym NBA has nothing to do with LeBron, Kobe or D-Wade. NBA means National Book Award, and outside of the Pulitzer, it's probably the most prestigious American literary award.

So, yesterday, the National Book Foundation released its list of nominations for the 2009 NBA for Fiction. And by all accounts -- including this rather angry one from an Entertainment Weekly blogger, who was also mad about the noms for the other categories as well -- the list is a real head-scratcher:

Here are the NBA Fiction Nominees:
Bonnie Jo Campbell, American Salvage (Wayne State University Press)
Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin (Random House)
Daniyal Mueenuddin, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Jayne Anne Phillips, Lark and Termite (Alfred A. Knopf)
Marcel Theroux, Far North (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Perhaps I'm not as hip to the goings-on in the literary world as I'd thought, but I'd only actually heard of one of these novels - McCann's Let the Great World Spin. It's on my amazon wishlist, but wasn't even approaching the top of my priority heap. Regarding the rest of the list: I mean, talk about obscurity!  Five bucks to anyone who knows how to pronounce Mueenuddin. And then there's American Salvage -- which apparently is a slender volume of short stories about Michigan published by the Wayne State University Press???  I guess, man.

Not having read any of these novels, I'm in no position to contest whether or not they belong on a literary-merit basis. Maybe these really are the best five novels America has produced this year. Still, it's hard for me to imagine that any of these are better than Verghese's Cutting For Stone. So, I concur with the EW blogger -- what a friggin' disappointment that it wasn't on the list.

One piece of good news from yesterday's announcements, however, is that one of my favorite writers, Dave Eggers, will be receiving something called the The Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. I'd be willing to bet a huge reason for the award is that Eggers is donating all the profits from his book published this July called Zeitoun to a charity called the Zeitoun Foundation. The book is the true tale of a Syrian immigrant trying to survive post-Katrina New Orleans and the charity was was founded this year to "aid in the rebuilding and ongoing health" of NOLA. Eggers also founded and runs an organization called 826 Valencia, which a non-profit writing center for youth located in the Mission District of San Francisco. Anyway, if you haven't read Zeitoun, I couldn't implore you more strongly to buy it and read it immediately. It is eye-opening and rage-inducing and mind-boggingly fantastic all at once. 

You can see the lists of NBA nominees for all categories here. And here's a list of past NBA Fiction winners. This year's award will be announced November 18th in New York City.


  1. Hi Greg. Swear you mentioned a while back that you were having a hard time getting into "Cutting with Stone." Maybe just an acid flashback.

    Anyhoo...Currently reading "Olive Kitteridge" and, must say, it's an entertaining book. Love the way Strount uses her protagonist (Olive) as a thread that connects more than a dozen other "stories" in the novel. Olive's pretty complex and the "good Olive" reminds me a lot of my of my mother-in-law.

    Next up: " Between the Assassinations."

  2. I feel you on this, except the McCann book is wonderfully awesome (except not as good as Zoli in my humble opinion). I think this is fairly typical of most high end literary awards these days (Pulitzer, Booker, etc). Just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy your blog. Your writing is excellent. Just started one my self, Come and have a look and tell me what you think.


    By the way, I am now following you and have added you to my blog roll.