Booker Shortlist Announced, John Sutherland Dinner Date In Works?

This year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist has been announced, and Rushdie is not on it.

What this means is that John Sutherland, who promised that he would curry and eat his proof copy of The Enchantress of Florence if Rushdie’s book did not win the Booker, is now under a certain gustatory obligation reminiscent of a certain German filmmaker.

If Sutherland does not eat his proof copy, then one can never take the man’s word seriously again. Never! Fair is fair, Sutherland. You promised to eat your proof copy. The time has come to live up to your pledge.

Here is the shortlist:

Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger
Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture
Amtiva Ghosh, Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant, The Clothes on Their Backs
Philip Hensher, The Northern Clemency
Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole

[UPDATE: Sutherland won’t do it! He is not a man of his word. Tread carefully around Sutherland’s culinary duplicity! For shame!]

Anne Enright Takes Booker

In a surprise win, Anne Enright has nabbed this year’s Booker Prize for The Gathering. Like 2005 Booker Prize winner John Banville, Ms. Enright is Irish. Which I suppose means that if you want to win the Booker, you should probably write an uncompromising novel about dysfunctional people and claim that you’re Irish. Then when you win the Booker, you can laugh in the timbre of a supervillain on the verge of taking over the world and respond in a non-Irish dialect, “I had you fooled! Suckers!” But I understand that Enright is genuinely Irish, as is Banville. And I suppose that the Booker people are very careful about ferreting out impostors. I understand that Kiran Desai is not Irish, although I have a feeling that she’d like to be.

In any event, the upshot is that, if you want to win the Booker, it’s good to be Irish. At least every other year. Look out for an Irish winner in 2009!

Nobel Literature Prize Goes to Doris Lessing

lessig.jpgA very nice choice, if I do say so myself!

National Book Award Finalists

I was stuck on a subway when the National Book Awards were announced, but I have to say that the nonfiction finalists are a far more interesting crop (Hitch!) than the fiction finalists. Maybe I was hoping for a more vivid and crackling selection similar to what we had last year. But it may very well be possible that the best books of the year weren’t coming from mainstream literary fiction, but within genre (Brian Francis Slattery’s Spaceman Blues), small presses (Antoine Wilson’s The Interloper) and from across the pond (Rupert Thomson’s Death of a Murder and, depending upon whether you count it as a 2007 book, Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, et al.). So run my own literary sensibilities at any rate. But I likewise think that Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World deserved a perch, as did Tom Bissell’s wildly ambitious and criminally overlooked The Father of All Things in the nonfiction category.

Before I reveal the awards, and with the full acknowledgment that Robert Birnbaum has likewise bandied about this passage, I’d just like to ask whether any of the five fiction finalists came close to this moment of wisdom from Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs (another book I’m tempted to include among the best of the year):

Odd, how our view of human destiny changes over the course of a lifetime. In youth we believe what the young believe, that life is all choice. We stand before a hundred doors, choose to enter one, where we’re faced with a hundred more and then choose again. We choose not just what we’ll do, but who we’ll be. Perhaps the sound of all those doors swinging shut behind us each time we select this one or that one should trouble us, but it doesn’t. Nor does the fact that the doors often are identical and even lead in some cases to the exact same place. Occasionally a door is locked, but no matter, since so many others remain available. The distinct possibility that choice itself may be an illusion is something we disregard, because we’re curious to know what’s behind that next door, the one we hope will lead us to the very heart of the mystery. Even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary we remain confident that when we emerge, with all our choosing done, we’ll have found not just our true destination but also its meaning. The young see life this way, front to back, their eyes to the telescope that anxiously scans the infinite sky and its myriad possibilities. Religion, seducing us with free will while warning us of our responsibility, reinforces youth’s need to see itself at the dramatic center, saying yes to this and no to that, against the backdrop of a great moral reckoning.

But at some point all of that changes. Doubt, born of disappointment and repetition, replaces curiosity. In our weariness we begin to sense the truth, that more doors have closed behind that remain ahead, and for the first time we’re tempted to swing the telescope around and peer at the world through the wrong end — though who can say it’s wrong? How different things look then! Larger patterns emerge, individual decisions receding into insignificance. To see a life back to front, as everyone begins to do in middle age, is to strip it of its mystery and wrap it in inevitability, drama’s enemy. Or so it sometimes seems to me, Louis Charles Lynch. The man I’ve become, the life I’ve lived, what are these but dominoes that fall not as I would have them, but simply as they must?

And yet not all mystery is lost, nor all meaning. Regardless of our vantage point, some events manage to retain their drama and significance.

Here then are this year’s finalists.


Mischa Berlinski, Fieldwork
Lydia Davis, Varieties of Disturbance
Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End
Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke
Jim Shepard, Like You’d Understand, Anyway


Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I’m Dying
Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution
Arnold Rampersad, Ralph Ellison: A Biography
Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA


Linda Gregerson, Magnetic North
Robert Hass, Time and Materials
David Kirby, The House on Boulevard St.
Stanley Plumly, Old Heart
Ellen Bryant Voigt, Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006


Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Kathleen Duey, Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic, Book One
M. Sindy Felin, Touching Snow
Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Sara Zarr, Story of a Girl

American Academy of Arts and Letters Awards announced

I always look forward to seeing the annual ad on the New York Times book page announcing the American Academy of Arts and Letters new members and awards recipients. Today’s the day, and although some of the awards are in music, architecture and the visual arts, many are in literature. I’m thrilled to see a passel of my favorite writers on the list:

New Academy Members
Deborah Eisenberg
Mary Gordon
Allan Gurganus
Jim Harrison
Robert Irwin
Harper Lee
Annie Proulx
Steven Stucky
Billie Tsien

Gold Medal for Fiction
John Updike

Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts
Michael R. Bloomberg

Award of Merit Medal for the Short Story
Charles Baxter

Academy Awards in Literature
Joan Acocella
Charles D’Ambrosio
Barbara Ehrenreich
David Markson
Robert Morgan
Joan Silber
William T. Vollmann
Dean Young

Benjamin H. Danks Award in Drama
Adam Rapp

E.M. Forster Award in Literature
Jez Butterworth

Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction
Tony D’Souza, Whiteman

Addison M. Metcalf Award in Literature
Suji Kwock Kim

Rome Fellowships in Literature
Junot Diaz
Sarah Manguso

Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award in Literature
Dana Spiotta, Eat the Document

Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award in Literature
Amy Hempel, The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel

Congratulations, all.

Oh, and if you have never seen the Academy’s gorgeous headquarters, along with its sister institutions, on Audubon Terrace in way upper Manhattan, you owe it to yourself to visit this architectural marvel some summer afternoon.

Pulitzer Winners

This year’s Pulitzer winners have been announced. On the literary front, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has won for fiction, Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff’s The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle and the Awakening of a Nation has won for history, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole has won for drama, Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard for poetry, Debby Applegate’s The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher for biography, and Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 for general nonfiction.

Why The Spoken Word Grammies Are Useless

I could truly care less about Mary J. Blige’s nomination sweep of the Grammies. What does interest me is the Spoken Word aspect. Alas, this year’s Spoken Word set of nominees are about as far as one can get from genuine poets. Bob Newhart? Bill Maher? Sure, these folks are somewhat effective comedians in their own right, but they are hardly poets. Al Franken? Well, if whiny mainstream “comedians” who take no chances and tell liberals what they already want to hear are indicative of “storytelling,” then let the Two Buck Chuck flow.

This leaves us with Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee reading their autobiography and Jimmy Carter, who actually has written some poetry, although his nomination is for Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis, about as “poetic” in nature as Franken’s schtick.

Granted, the Grammies, like most awards ceremonies, are pretty pointless. And there’s no reason to expect them to honor the rich and eclectic millieu of audio books. But if the category in question “includes Poetry, Audio Books & Storytelling,” why doesn’t a single nomination feature poetry? If the celebrities are getting greater recognition, why not create a new category dedicated exclusively to literature?

Well, we can’t have that. Billy Collins, Maya Angelou, and Donald Hall aren’t nearly as sexy as Blige strutting her stuff. Gonna breakthrough? Not on your life.

National Book Award Finalists

An absolutely splendid list of fiction finalists for this year’s National Book Awards:

Mark Z. Danielewski, Only Revolutions (Pantheon)
Ken Kalfus, A Disorder Peculiar to the Country (Ecco/HarperCollins)
Richard Powers, The Echo Maker (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Dana Spiotta, Eat the Document (Scribner/Simon & Schuster)
Jess Walter, The Zero (Judith Regan Books/HarperCollins)

I’ve read three of these books and I have to say that these three will likely end up on my Top 10 list. The nod for Dana Spiotta, in particular, is a great surprise. For those interested in learning more, Ms. Spiotta appeared on Show #28 of The Bat Segundo Show. You can find my thoughts on the book here.

Given how much I’ve talked up Spiotta, Danielewski, and Powers this past year, and given Vollmann’s win last year, I’m wondering if Return of the Reluctant had a small hand in pointing some of the judges in the right direction. And by “small hand,” I refer, of course, to the mysterious checks sent under surreptitious cover to the NBA judges.

Big Surprise: Quills Lack Thrills

Sarah attends the Quills. Among the sordid details: (1) The ceremony cost a remarkably wasteful $500,000, (2) the awards ceremony was as interminable as the Oscars, (3) American Idol Fantasia Barrino was enlisted to butcher Porgy & Bess, and (4) nobody outside of the publishing industry appears to give a damn about the Quills (the web traffic for the Quills site was so low that nobody could get numbers).

Play the Secret Dance of the Seven Veils All You Want, You Wacky Swedes! We’re At Our RSS Feeds 24-7! We Never Sleep! You Can’t Stop Us!

Reuters: “The Swedish Academy announces the winner of the world’s top literary prize, founded by dynamite millionaire Alfred Nobel, along with four other awards, on a Thursday in October. It refuses to say which until days beforehand, but this year’s announcement is expected to fall on October 12 or 19.”

Updike to Trade In Comfy Sofa for Expensive Davenport

John Updike has won the $30,000 Rea Awardan award granted to “a living American or Canadian writer who has made a significant contribution in the discipline of the short story as an art form.” It’s good to see that the Dungannon Foundation has gone out of its way to honor a writer who truly needs more cash and awards. It is rumored that Mr. Updike’s interior designer will apply these funds to the east wing living room.

No Booker Love for Mitchell This Year

At long last, the Booker Shortlist has been announced. And David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green didn’t make the cut. Also stubbed out: Peter Carey. Personally, I pin the blame on Fiona Shaw for this great oversight.

Then again, one must question an organization that actually considered DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little as an exemplar.

The shortlist, which is truly a collection of surprises, is as follows:

Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss
Kate Grenville’s The Secret River
M.J. Hyland’s Carry Me Down
Hisham Matar’s In the Country of Men
Edward St Aubyn’s Mother’s Milk
Sarah Waters’s The Night Watch

Harvey Award Winners

Heidi McDonald offers a Baltimore Comic-Con report and reveals this year’s Harvey Award Winners:

Best Writer: Ed Brubaker, Captain America, Marvel Comics
Best Artist: J.H. Williams III, Promethea, ABC/Wildstorm/Dc Comics
Best Cartoonist: Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library #16, Acme Novelty Library
Best Letterer: Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library #16, Acme Novelty Library
Best Inker: Charles Burns, Black Hole #12, Fantagraphics Books
Best Colorist: Laura Martin, Astonishing X-Men, Marvel Comics
Best Cover Artist: James Jean, Fables, DC/Vertigo
Best New Talent: R. Kikuo Johnson, Night Fisher, Fantagraphics Books and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Marvel Knights Four, Marvel Comics (tie)
Best New Series: Young Avengers, Marvel Comics
Best Continuing or Limited Series: Runaways, Marvel Comics
Best Syndicated Strip or Panel: Maakies, Tony Millionaire, Self-Syndicated
Best Anthology: Solo, DC Comics
Best Graphic Album–Original: Tricked, Top Shelf
Best Graphic Album–Previously Published: Black Hole, Pantheon Books
Best Single Issue or Story: Love And Rockets, Volume 2, # 15, Fantagraphics Books
Best Domestic Reprint Project: Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays, Sunday Press Books
Best American Edition of Foreign Material: Buddha, Vertical Books
Best Online Comics Work: American Elf, James Kochalka,
Special Award for Humor in Comics: Kyle Baker, Plastic Man, DC Comics
Special Award for Excellence in Presentation: Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays, Sunday Press Books
Best Biographical, Historical or Journalistic Presentation: Comics Journal, Fantagraphics Books

Quills Lack Thrills

Publishers Weekly reports that Al Roker, about as literary a man as Keanu Reeves, revealed the Quills nominees on NBC’s Weekend Today show. Aside from the troubling notion that nobody in the Today office has bothered to read any of these titles (least of all Roker), I’m wondering just what point this particular awards ceremony serves. The winners are “feted at a gala event on October 10.” But with voting open to anyone, this is nothing less than the People’s Choice Awards of literature — a waste of everybody’s time, a way to give Joan Didion yet another award, and a method to ensure that books are business as usual. You may as well throw Doctorow and Mitchell into an open pit and have them punch each other for the title.

Pulitzer Winners Announced

The 2006 Pulitzer winners have been announced:

FICTION: Geraldine Brooks, March
DRAMA: Declined to give award.
HISTORY: David M. Oshinsky, Polio: An American Story
GENERAL NONFICTION: Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya
BIOGRAPHY: Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus
POETRY: Claudia Emerson, Late Wife
MUSIC: Yehudi Wyner, “Chiavi in Mano.”

National Book Critics Circle Winners

They haven’t been posted at papers are reporting the following winners:

FICTION: The March by E.L. Doctorow
MEMOIR: Them: A Memoir of Parents by Francine de Plessix Gray
NONFICTION: Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich (Keith Gessen: translator)
BIOGRAPHY: American Promtheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin
CRITICISM: The Undiscovered Country by William Logan
POETRY: Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert

Nebula Award Nominees Announced

From Gwenda “Don’t Call Me Lazenby, But Daniel Craig is Okay” Bond, comes this year’s Nebula Award nominees:


Geoff Ryman, Air
Joe Haldeman, Camoflauge
Terry Pratchett, Going Postal
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Jack McDevitt, Polaris
John C. Wright, Orphan of Chaos


Clay’s Pride” by Bud Sparhawk
Identity Theft” (available via PDF or DOC) by Robert J. Sawyer
Left of the Dial” by Paul Witcover
Magic for Beginners” by Kelly Link
The Tribes of Bela” by Albert Cowdrey


The Faery Handbag” by Kelly Link
Flat Diane” by Daniel Abraham
Men Are Trouble” by Jim Kelly
Nirvana High” by Eileen Gunn and Leslie What
The People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi (who blew me away a few years ago with his fantastic short story “The Fluted Girl”)


Born-Again” by K.D. Wentworth
The End of the World as We Know It” by Dale Bailey
I Live With You” by Carol Emshwiller
My Mother, Dancing” by Nancy Kress
Singing My Sister Down” by Margo Lanagan
Still Life With Boobs” by Anne Harris (This should win an award for best title!)
There’s a Hole in the City” by Richard Bowes

[UPDATE: Thank you Perry and Abigail for filling in a few missing links to short stories available online!]