Oh, Come on! The National Book Award Fiction Finalists

Atia (Octavian/Augustus' mother) in "Rome" (played by Polly Walker)

Atia (Octavian/Augustus’ mother) in “Rome”

When I saw the announcement of the National Book Award fiction longlist in the Washington Post this morning, I thought, Here’s something I can get behind.  But then I nearly spit out my tea.

“This is a f—–g starf—-ers’ list!  The trollops!”

Excuse the f- words. I’m watching the second season of the HBO series, Rome, and every other word is f—.  “Very British,” my husband says.  “Very HBO,” I say.  I also now call everyone a trollop, because Atia, Octavian/Augustus’s mother (played by Polly Walker), uses the t-word.

The National Book Award has long been the equivalent of the Man Booker Prize, to my mind:  I’ve never taken the Pulitzer seriously, what with their occasionally refusing to award it.  Now the NBA has a longlist-shortlist system, just like the Booker.  The poetry longlist was announced on Tuesday.  The nonfiction yesterday.  Today the fiction.

I don’t mind that my favorites of the year (see sidebar) didn’t make the longlist.  What I do mind is that there are only four writers on this list whose work I’ve never read.

Come on, give me something to work with here! I like to discover something new.

The list:

National Book Awards fiction 2013 lonTom Drury, “Pacific” (Grove).
Elizabeth Graver, “The End of the Point” (Harper).
Rachel Kushner, “The Flamethrowers” (Scribner).
Jhumpa Lahiri, “The Lowland” (Forthcoming from Knopf on Sept. 24).
Anthony Marra, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” (Hogarth).
James McBride, “The Good Lord Bird” (Riverhead).
Alice McDermott, “Someone” (Farrar Straus Giroux).
Thomas Pynchon, “Bleeding Edge” (Penguin).
George Saunders, “Tenth of December: Stories” (Random House).
Joan Silber, “Fools: Stories” (Norton).

I’ve read reviews of every book on this list except Pacific.

I’ve read all of Alice McDermott’s books.  I’ll read this one, too.  She won the National Book Award in 1998 for Charming Billy.

I admire Joan Silber, George Saunders, Jhumpa Lahiri, James McBride, and Thomas Pynchon (who won the NBR in 1974 for Gravity’s Rainbow).

And so there are only four I’ve never read a word of.

“Is something wrong?” a family member asked.  He had spilled coffee all over his tie so wasn’t in the best of spirits.

“They’re trollops!”  I answered.

“Trollope?”  he asked.

“The judges!”


He went out the door.  I know I will have better luck discussing this online.

The judges are:  former New York Times Book Review editor Charles McGrath (chair), Charles Baxter (a brilliant novelist and short story writer),  Gish Jen (ditto),Rick Simonson, a bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, and René Steinke (a novelist I haven’t read).

Perhaps all these books are masterpieces.

Perhaps the judges have their eye on one of the few, very few, longshots.

It’s always wonderful when the award goes to someone unknown, though of course the unknowns are no longer unknown:  Lily Tuck, Andrea Barrett, Jaimy Gordon.

Perhaps the judges should develop a narrative about the writers for us so we’ll have something to care about.

MEANWHILE, EVERYONE IN THE UK is raging because the Man Booker Prize has been opened up to Americans.  They much prefer the Commonwealth, they say.

What is the Commonwealth?  one wonders.  O Can-a-da!  India, South Africa, Australia… is the “wealth” really “common”?

The Americans revolted long, long ago.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident…,” etc., etc.

There is no reason for the Booker to be open to Americans.

Americans do qualify for the Orange Prize/Women’s Prize, and often win it.

And so the Brits and I are steaming about different awards.

6 thoughts on “Oh, Come on! The National Book Award Fiction Finalists

  1. As an American, a citizen of the world, and an unrepentant fan of animal protein, I can’t think of any good reason why the Booker Prize needs to include My People. The Commonwealth has an ample number of its own trollops and wankers!


  2. Yes, I don’t quite know about the animal protein, but Brit lit is so good that they don’t need to include the U.S. We’ve got our own NBA/ Booker now with its longlist/shortlist system.

    And, yes, they’ve got their trollops, too! (I don’t use the “w”-word.) Let them give it to their own!


  3. I’ve read four on the longlist (Kushner, Marra, Saunders, and Silber), all of them excellent. I’ve read other books by McDermott, Lahiri, and Pynchon. So that leaves only three authors I’m unfamiliar with.
    Interesting that Jhumpa Lahiri is up for both the Booker and NBA. Next year there probably will be more. .


  4. Cynthia, I wish Yarbrough had made the longlist!
    I read an article at Atlantic Wire
    and apparently the Brits don’t want the Americans included in the Booker.

    Tony, you’re my new book go-to guy. It does look like a good list: but so many stars!


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