Tag Archives: fiction

2009 National Book Awards Finalists

Fiction
American Salvage – Bonnie Jo Campbell
Let the Great World Spin – Colum McCann
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders – Daniyal Mueenuddin
Lark and Termite – Jayne Anne Phillips
Far North – Marcel Theroux

Nonfiction
Following the Water: A Hydromancer’s Notebook – David M. Carroll
Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species – Sean B. Carroll
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City – Greg Grandin
The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy – Adrienne Mayor
The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt – T.J. Stiles

Poetry
Versed – Rae Armantrout
Or to Begin Again – Ann Lauterbach
Speak Low – Carl Phillips
Open Interval – Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy – Keith Waldrop

Young People’s Literature
Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith – Deborah Heiligman
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice – Phillip Hoose
Stiches – David Small
Lips Touch: Three Times – Laini Taylor
Jumped – Rita Williams-Garcia

Find out more at the National Book Foundation site.

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Juliet Naked, by Nick Hornby

Juliet, Naked

Juliet, Naked has a number of themes at its center. Like so much of Hornby’s work, it explores music. He takes things a step further than his music store obsessives in High Fidelity and has a character who is singularly consumed with the discography and life of a single performer. Although Hornby does gently poke some fun at this fellow, it’s not (totally) mean-spirited. Clearly, Hornby can understand how and why someone can want to know all of the tiny details about an artist, even if it all seems a bit silly in the end.

While it seemed early on as if this would be the book’s primary focus, things take a bit of a shift as Hornby moves away from pondering the things that make us so obsessed about certain artists (or things) and more toward intimations on mortality, unconventional middle-age romance (it’s better than it sounds, I swear), celebrity and art. Perhaps a reader needs to be a certain age (I realize with dismay that I am that certain age) to fully enjoy the novel, but I do think that anyone can relate to knowing someone who is so completely obsessed with a certain musician, television show, movie, actor or comic book to the point that it gets a little bit ooky.

I’ve watched and read a lot of works lately where one of the central conceits is a character who has seen time pass them by to the point where they feel obsolete, and it’s oddly resonant (and a little heartbreaking) every single time. Juliet, Naked takes that conceit and shows three separate characters dealing with it in their own individual ways. It’s easy to empathize with Annie, Duncan and Tucker even when they’re doing things that are less than admirable. Truth is, we all have thoughts that are kind of ugly sometimes, and we’ve done things we’re not quite proud of. That doesn’t make us bad people, even though it’s part of who we are.

I’m guessing that Juliet, Naked will be my favorite book of 2009, and I’ll be fretting and worrying that someone will ruin it with a movie version (though the original Fever Pitch, High Fidelity and About a Boy are all fantastic). It definitely reads cinematically and conversationally, which is oddly a criticism some readers have of Hornby, but it works well with this particular story. I loved the characters for all their foibles and faults, and thought that I had worked out where Hornby would take them, but I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. It’s one of those books that I was kind of sad to finish, because my journey with the characters had ended. I miss them already.

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Revisiting The Millions’ Best Fiction of the Millennium List

The Millions has revealed its full list of their Best Fiction of the Millennium. Reviewing the books they selected, I’ve read seven of the 20, with another four or five coming up on my reading list. I was fairly disappointed in the book that wound up in the #1 position. I found Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections to be thoroughly unlikeable, and a book that I had to slog through just to say it hadn’t defeated me. I hated all of the characters,and had no reason whatsoever to care about what happened to them. It really does go down as one of my greatest reading disappointments in recent memory, particularly given all the glowing praise it’s received.

The Millions certainly got a lot of them right, though. Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell) and Atonement (Ian McEwan) are two of my favorite novels in recent memory. I’ve now read everything Mitchell has ever written and a lot of McEwan’s offerings as well, and both are talented authors whom I admire greatly. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go isn’t as good as his earlier Remains of the Day, but I do think it’s a worthy entry. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, is a rough read, by which I mean that the story itself is so painful that it almost hurts to keep turning the page. But he’s certainly evoking emotion and painting a picture of a world that may not last much longer.

Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is also sad, but delicate in its way. I’ll be reading her more recent novel, Home, soon and I very much like her writing style. The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is an odd duck of a book, one that I liked and thought was unique, but a number of friends have hated.

Books that were already on my “to be read” list include The Known World (and its follow-up, All Aunt Hagar’s Children), 2666 (I recently read The Savage Detectives by the same author), Varieties of Disturbance, The Fortress of Solitude, and American Genius: A Comedy. I’m semi-considering Stranger Things Happen for Halloween reading this year, as well.

The readers of the Millions had their own list, which adds good stuff like Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell.

It’s been an intriguing discussion, and while I was a bit surprised at the winner (I was expecting Cloud Atlas or 2666), I think it’s generally a good representation of 21st century literature thus far. I would have liked to see a few more women on both lists, but I like that there’s a well-rounded number of authors from a variety of cultures. And of course, I now have a couple of additional books to ponder adding to my massive, ever-growing to-do list.

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Best Fiction of the Millennium (so far)

The Millions is unveiling their choices for the best fiction of 2000s. Looks like a fine way to ramp up your reading list (not that most of us need any assistance on that front).

Meanwhile, if you’d like to vote for your own favorite books of the decade, you can head on over to Paste Magazine, where they’re asking for your selections.

My choices (in alphabetical order):

Atonement – Ian McEwan
Black Swan Green – David Mitchell
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
Darkmans – Nicola Barker
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngogi Adichie
Heir to the Glimmering World – Cynthia Ozick
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke
Let Me In – John Ajvide Lindqvist
Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name – Vendela Vida
One Good Turn – Kate Atkinson
Perdido Street Station – China Mieville
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Unaccustomed Earth – Jhumpa Lahiri

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