National Book Critics Circle Award

I always enjoy this prize as it seems to be literary without being over-exclusive.  There is no requirement that the book touch upon a certain theme.  In fact, the only requirement is that the book be written in English within the calendar year.  Even books in translation are up for the award as long as they were translated within that year, so both Sebald and Bolaño are recipients.

The National Book Critics Circle awards books in the following categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Biography, Autobiography, and Criticism.

Click here for a link to the NBCC official website. 

Click here for the pre-2009 blog of the national book critics circle board of directors, and here for the current blog (love this blog).

23 thoughts on “National Book Critics Circle Award

  1. The gossipy part of me (which some say forms a large part of my character) loves speculating about the politics of book prize juries. So I offer the following questions and opinions:

    1. Will the NBCC jury show their disdain for their Man Booker counterparts and not include The White Tiger on this shortlist? A definite yes is the answer, in my opinion. I wanted to suggest the snub would go further with the inclusion of The Impostor on the NBCC shortlist but some amazon sleuthing shows a Dec. 27, 2007 publication date for the hardcover version — a strange decision by Galgut’s publishers.
    2. Will this shortlist contribute to the Toni Morrison-Marylynne Robinson-who is better debate by including both, neither or only one? My guess is A Mercy gets on the list, partly due to the Obama effect and the book’s comments on race.
    3. Will Trevor’s apparently unshakeable faith in Netherland be reflected in it making the shortlist? Given the positive reviews it received in the U.S., I’m guessing Trevor and his opinion will be vindicated here.

    With 10 days still to go, I’m sure I can come up with more obscure questions and opinions.

  2. Excellent opinions, Kevin, and I think I agree with you 100%. I have A Mercy and Netherland on my list I’m going to submit to you soon. I’m still trying to decide whether they will also favor Robinson with a nod. My mind tells me yes because her only other two books are so highly acclaimed, but my gut says no. Home wasn’t on many “best” lists while A Mercy was on many.

    And since many of the voting members of the NBCC are professional book reviewers and book review editors, and The White Tiger did not get the best reviews here in the United States, I didn’t even consider it! Adiga, I think, was incredibly fortunate to have won the Booker. My guess is that just like most lists of best books of 2008 suggest, Netherland is the only contender of all the Booker longlist. I’d like to see it on the NBCC list.

    I look forward to more obscure questions and opinions and hope to come up with a few myself.

  3. I just posted my five guesses on Kevin’s blog:

    * Netherland: Joseph O’Neill
    * A Mercy: Toni Morrison
    * Dangerous Laughter: Steven Milhauser
    * Breath: Tim Winton
    * Yesterday’s Weather: Anne Enright

    Others I think have a great shot:

    * Indignation: Philip Roth
    * Fine Just the Way It Is: Annie Proulx
    * My Revolutions: Hari Kunzru
    * Lush Life: Richard Price
    * Unaccustomed Earth: Jhumpa Lahiri

    So let’s see if I’ve even named one in this list of ten books!

  4. Aha! The commens feature is back on my pages. Turns I had checked the box “Allow comments on pages” to “No.” Well, even if it is a silly mistake, at least it wasn’t something complex deeply embedded in code that I cannot understand.

  5. It is not a silly mistake to anyone who has a) clicked the wrong box b) not noticed one wrong box was clicked by default or c) both of the above. Mark me down for all three of those choices, most often c). That’s why I keep sending comments about what I think is missing. Glad you got this sorted out in time for me to offer (probably grouchy) comments on tonight’s list. My late prediction is that we will see a list that consciously tries to split between established names (two to three) and new names (three or two) — which means that a number of our “obvious” picks will get overlooked and we will see a book or two that is on no one’s (or at least few) prediction lists. Of course, I can remember a time I was wrong before.

  6. Wow, so fifty minutes after 7:00 and I’m still refreshing my link to the finalists announcement. Apparently there is a lot of wine and homemade bread pudding to keep people there busy while waiting. Meanwhile, I look pretty pathetic right now.

  7. I agree that A Mercy would have been an excellent nominee–Morrison was very focused, moreso than I thought Robinson was in Home. It had really strong moments (like her meditation the closeness of grace and predestination), but Jack Boughton seemed less interesting the more often that he kept apologizing. The characters in Morrison’s book were stronger and just as interestingly flawed.

    I assume I’m like many who may never make it through 2666.

  8. Oh dear I haven’t read any of them, and the only author I know is Robinson. Looks like that’ll be another 5 to add to my TBR….
    I can’t keep up!

  9. I’ve read only two, Lisa. 2666, which I see as a great book but hope doesn’t win, and The Lazarus Project, which at first was compelling but which I was really tired of by the end.

    I’ve got Home in my sights, but I want to read Gilead first. So I guess it’s time!

    I hadn’t heard of the other two.

    Nathan, you’ll have to leave your thoughts on Home in that forum. I’d like to hear your take on it. I’m looking forward to it since I thought Housekeeping to be a wonderful book.

  10. I must say, I find this to be a very strange list.
    I have read only one, Home, a book that I found to be very well written but the storyline and characters never connected (my limited thoughts are posted on this site in the NBA comments section). If you liked Robinson’s previous books, my guess is you would like this one. And if you didn’t, you’ll probably find this one lacking.

    The Lazarus Project is the only NBA finalist that I didn’t read. Since I have a copy, I think I’ll get to it before the NBCC winner is announced — at least some of the reviews (although not Trevor’s) indicate some promise.

    I’m pretty sure I won’t be reading 2666. Having started and abandoned The Savage Detectives twice, I can’t see launching on a 900-plus-page epic — even the most enthusiastic reviews leave me thinking this is a book that I won’t like.

    The other two are the strangest choices. From what I can find about the Taylor on a quick web troll, I’m thinking it is not a book for me — Trevor’s comment about the cover also applies in my case. And the Strout certainly looks to be one of those Oprah books (like Edgar Sawtelle) that just isn’t for me — although I’ll admit that means a lot of other people probably will like it.

    In some ways, the list for me is good news — only one book that I feel I should add to the TBR pile and that one is already down in the basement somewhere.

    I am very surprised that neither Netherland nor A Mercy made the shortlist. My guess is that the attitude was “neither is going to win, both have received lots of attention already, so let’s use our chance to highlight some other books.” Can’t say I disagree with that line of thinking.

  11. This doesn’t really belong here Trevor, but it seems the best place I can find. I saw an ad in the New Yorker for Jayne Anne Phillips Lark and Termite that featured blurbs from Alice Munro (who almost never gives them), Tim O’Brien and Junot Diaz. That would be a trifecta of authors I like, even better, they come from such different backgrounds and styles. So I check out NY Times reviews and find two raves, or at least near raves. But when I read the reviews the description seems to say that this is a book I would not like at all.

    So my question is, have you (or anyone else visiting this blog)heard or read anything that would cause you to have an opinion? Phillips has obviously been writing for a while and I don’t know her — do you know anything about her?


  12. I’m afraid I’ll have to defer to other readers on this one, Kevin. I’ve never read it or anything by Jayne Anne Phillips.

    I’ll do some looking around, though. That those three authors would endorse it has me interested.

  13. The publisher’s bio I found says she is director of the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark, among other things, so I’m kind of hoping one of your local contacts may know a thing or two about Phillips.

  14. Didn’t get a chance (well, didn’t choose) to read Home before tomorrow’s announcement. I have no real plan to read Trenchmouth or Olive, maybe even if they win. We’ll see.

    At this point, I think I hope Home wins, just on the strength of Robinson’s other two novels. I didn’t like Lazarus and I found 2666 too convoluted. We’ll see tomorrow.

    By the way, I notice on here that the last comments were about my interviewing Phillips. Last I heard from her she still said she would, but that’s been a while. Maybe my questions were awful! I’m thinking it’s mostly that she’s busy and using her time for other things. I’m not sure, then, that I’ll get the interview completed to post, though I can say that she is a pleasant person by email!

  15. The more I thought about it the more disappointed that I was with this list. I did take another look at Lazarus but didn’t read it — after my first failed effort, it looked just too much like a chore, as opposed to reading books that I really did want to read. I couldn’t finish The Savage Detectives which meant 2666 had about nine strikes against it. So I too would probably opt for Home, even though I was pretty lukewarm about it. Given some very good books I did read that were eligible — Unaccustomed Earth, Telex from Cuba and, yes, Netherland — not too mention all the foreign-originated work that qualifies — that seems to be a disappointing choice. Let’s hope the Pulitzer is more interesting.

  16. The NBCC awards ceremony is going on as I write this, but so far I have found no announcements. And now I’m on my way out the door. So . . . looking forward to the winners!

    By the way, just started This Republic of Suffering, a nonfiction book that is a finalist for the NBCC and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Looks like a good year for nonfiction if books like this aren’t winning.

  17. Roberto Bolano’s 2666 has won the 2008 NBCC Award for fiction.

    That means that both the 2008 National Book Award and the 2008 NBCC Award went to gigantic, convoluted, quasi-unreadable novels. Definitely awarding ambition this year, both the authors and the readers who want to read the books!

  18. With this year’s shortlists in all categories due for announcement on Jan. 23, I thought we should make this post active, at least on the fiction list. I am always behind on reading U.S. fiction, but I do have three that I want to see on the list:

    1. That Old Cape Magic; Richard Russo
    2. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders; Daniel Mueenuddin
    3. Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It; Maile Meloy

    I’ve reviewed the first two and a review on Meloy will be up within a week.

    That means there are some I have read that I don’t think belong on the list — Lorrie Moore most notably, although Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin would be another (and I would not be upset if this one made the list). And I haven’t read Lark and Termite, which I know you liked and which did attract a lot of support.

    I think in many ways this award is the most representative of the U.S. based awards (and we should note the broadest based since it has no citizenship restrictions). I do think for readers looking for readable books, it does produce the best list.

    So, Trevor, your choices? Since the NBCC often features translated works, I’m definitely looking to see what you have to say. You are my expert on works in translation.

  19. Last year wasn’t a good year for me and current American literature. I think I only read a couple of books by American authors (Lark & Termite and The Humbling), I completely stayed away from the Booker finalists (though I have almost all of them on hand to read eventually — The Glass Room arrived in the mail yesterday courtesy of Other Press), and I can’t think of a piece of translated literature that is quite on the scale of, say, Austerlitz or 2666 (maybe Your Face Tomorrow Vol. 3? But that’s the third part of an ambitious trilogy. Maybe Ghosts? But that’s rather idiosyncratic.).

    I don’t see a work of translated fiction being on this list this year. I can’t think of one that was widely reviewed by the critics that make up the NBCC. I might have a blind spot this morning, but I can’t think of a major translated work that was published by a major publisher, and, sadly, those are the ones that get the attention of this group.

    From the general admiration, I can see Wolf Hall being a finalist here, and I can see Let the Great World Spin on the list, though I’ve read neither. I can also see Lark & Termite on the list, which would be a surprise to me (it wasn’t a surprise that it was a National Book Award finalist) because it just doesn’t seem like a NBCC award winner. I would be more surprised to see That Old Cape Magic on the list, just because I get the sense that people read it comparing it to Russo’s other work and not so much to other books written in 2009. I cannot see The Humbling on the list — too weird, and not loved by half the critics in the circle anyway.

    Last year I hadn’t heard of Olive Kitteridge or The Battle of Trenchmouth Taggert, and this year I feel even more in the dark.

    Thanks for the thoughts, Kevin. Hopefully some others will join in the discussion and give some light.

  20. There is The Tanners that I think should be on the list, but I don’t think it will be. Not only is it somewhat under the radar, but I doubt that the year after giving the award posthumously to Roberto Bolaño (only four years’ dead) they would then give it to Robert Walser (54 years’ dead). I’m not sure that’s the kind of thing they have in mind for this award, though the criteria don’t prohibit such a winner as far as I can tell.

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