The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
Donna Tartt's expansive third novel The Goldfinch and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel of race, love and power Americanah were among the fiction finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Also nominated were Alice McDermott's Someone, Javier Marias' The Infatuations and Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being. In the nonfiction category, Lawrence Wright's penetrating study of the Church of Scientology, Going Clear, was nominated, along with George Packer's National Book Award-winning The Unwinding, which claims that American institutions have begun to "unwind," replaced by "the default force in American life, organized money." Also nominated in this category were Whitey Bulger: America's Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice by Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sherri Fink and Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel. The five poetry finalists were Frank Bidart's Metaphysical Dog, Lucie Brock-Broido's Stay, Illusion, Denise Duhamel's Blowout, Bob Hicok's Elegy Owed and Carmen Gimenez Smith's Milk and Filth. In criticism, the pack was led by Jonathan Franzen's The Kraus Project, translations of the Austrian thinker Karl Kraus; followed by Hilton Als' White Girls; Mary Beard's Confronting the Classics; Janet Malcolm's Forty-One False Starts; and Franco Moretti's Distant Reading. The biography finalists were Scott Anderson's Lawrence in Arabia, Leo Damrosch's Jonathan Swift, John Eliot Gardiner's Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, Linda Leavell's Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore and Mark Thompson's Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kis. Finally, Sonali Deraniyagala's Wave, Aleksandar Hemon's The Book of My Lives, Rebecca Solnit's The Faraway Nearby and Amy Wilentz's Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti, and Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped were nominated for the autobiography category. The winners of the prestigious prizes will be announced in March.
The Chronicle of Higher Education published a critical look at the "graying" New York Review of Books: "Apart from its prolix and cautious reviews, what troubles about the NYRB is its insularity, Anglophilism, devotion to New York-based writers, and love affair with Ivy League-chaired professors. But most troubling of all is the absence of a younger generation. This is the gravamen." Let's hope this is the beginning of a very polite feud.
The New Statesman reflects on the slippery border between fiction and fan fiction: "What Doctor Who and Sherlock offer us right now is a chance to see what modern fan fiction would look like if it was written by well-paid, well-respected middle-aged men with a big fat budget. That sort of fan fiction is usually referred to simply as 'fiction.' "
The New Yorker's Hilton Als recalls the poet Amiri Baraka, who died this month: "Who could forget him at James Baldwin's memorial service at St. John the Divine, where he said Baldwin was 'God's black revolutionary mouth,' and who could forget him in Warren Beatty's underrated 1998 film, Bulworth, as an oracle who sees the truth through his own black revolutionary mouth? One got the sense though, over the years, that Baraka's ego was at odds with his writing; that the early success of his poetry and plays irked him because he wanted the audience to see him, to connect with what he had to say on a more visceral level than mere paper and pencil could convey."
The Best Books Coming Out This Week:
Foreign Gods, Inc. by Okey Ndibe: In Ndibe's second novel, Ike is a Nigerian cab driver living in New York City, "a certified member of the lumpen proletariat" despite graduating with honors from Amherst. He comes across a magazine profile titled "The Man Who Sells Gods" about a trader whose "charm and infectious humor often persuade collectors to put down several hundred thousand dollars for a godhead from the Tiv pagans of Africa, or fork over a cool million for a sacred totem from a remote, often unpronounceable Southeast Asian tribe." (The zingy, glib journalese Ndibe recreates is pitch-perfect). Inspired by the profile, Ike decides to return to Nigeria and steal a precious statue of the war god Ngene from his home village.
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