Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The long and short of book award fiction nominees

When it comes to an award season for books, most agree that, apart from the Pulitzer, the closest we have to an Oscar for literature in the US is the National Book Award.

Since I am more of a novel reader, my focus is on the Fiction category and the other week, long lists in all of the NBA categories were announced. The shorter lists of final nominees will be disclosed soon but I do find the whole "long,then short" list arrangement a bit odd.

In a weird way, it's like a beauty pageant where all of the other contenders who were eliminated have to stand around and watch the select few among them compete for the win. Why not simply put out a short list when it's decided on and leave the longer versions for the judges to mull over in private?  Maybe it's just me but then again, even being on a long list could help a book's sales,so my worry may be for naught.

 There is one book on the Fiction long list for the NBA that I have no doubt will be on the short list as well is Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, which has been gathering great reviews.

The story takes place in a slightly altered universe, where the Underground Railroad used by slaves to escape to freedom is an actual railroad with various stations and stops. Riding the rails is Cora, a young woman determined to find a better life than the harsh existence that she is the third generation sufferer of.

Going from place to place with new friends along the way, Cora discovers that reaching a safe haven is harder than expected and may be an impossible goal to have. In addition to the rave reviews, Oprah has selected the book as her latest Book Club 2.0 choice, which will add greatly to the good word being spread for a novel that is being seen as the author's masterpiece:

In looking over the NBA Fiction long list, I was pleasantly surprised to see that two of the books chosen are on my TBR pile.  Sadly, I have not read them yet but will do so soon, regardless of whether they make the short list or not.

While Jacqueline Woodson's Another Brooklyn was released in August, News of the World by Paulette Jiles will not be out until early October(I happen to have a review copy). Both books deal with young women who have to figure out how their past experiences will or won't impact upon their present and future, with one set in more modern times while the other takes place in the so-called "Old West."

The latter has a bit of a True Grit vibe as a semi-retired military officer is charged with taking a young girl home to what family she has left. She has no memory of her life before being raised by a Kiowa tribe after her parents died. As the pair are pursued by various parties on their journey, a bond grows between them that is perhaps stronger than any blood ties. I have fond memories of reading Enemy Women by Jiles and this new book sounds even promising than that one was:

Meanwhile, the Man Booker Prize(the BAFTA to our Oscars) has already whittled down their long list to announce their short list of contenders. Since the Man Booker covers the US along with the UK and Canada, one of the nominated titles was familiar to me.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty is a sharp social satire that doesn't shy away from the topic of race in America. The leading man of this story lives in Dickens, CA, which has been taken off of the map due to it's lower class status.

Motivated by the death of his father,who used his son's childhood as a social experiment, our narrator wants to restore his hometown to the state map by leading a campaign to bring back segregation. With the help of a former child star,  he gets more than he bargained for in attention and government intervention.

The Sellout has already won the National Book Critics Circle award last year and was on the Best of the Year fiction lists of the New York Times Book Review and The Wall Street Journal for 2015.  Getting the Man Booker would be another jewel in the crown for such a richly written look at how far we've come yet are still so far away from a better society for all:

Out of the other nominated books in this category, the one that peaks my interest the most is a Canadian entry, Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien.

The story begins in Vancouver but journeys over to China, as the impact of the cultural revolutions affect the characters. Marie, a young woman living with her mother after the death of her father, is encouraged by a new friend to look into her dad's past.

The new friend, Ai-Ming, is the daughter of Sparrow, who was the best friend of Marie's father, Kai. Both men shared a love of music that become more difficult to pursue as the encroaching political changes in the country forced them not only to flee but change their fates for more than one generation. This novel will be available in the US by October and it's Man Booker status should help it gain an interested audience of new readers over here:

While I have joined in with others who wish for more commercial books to be included in such awards in the past, I must admit that there is a benefit both to writers and readers in having books nominated that are not chart toppers. True, some stories do stand out in more than one section of the bookstore and shouldn't be overlooked just for that.

However, the pleasure of discovering both a new book and author you haven't read before is a delight that ought to be cherished and if getting a shot at a big award like this does the trick, then it's truly a honor just to be nominated:

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