Today the 2011 National Book Award Finalists were announced on Oregon Public Radio. Winners will be announced on November 16.

Young People’s Literature

  • My Name Is Not Easy, by Debby Dahl Edwardson
  • Inside Out & Back Again, by Thanhha Lai
  • Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy, by Albert Martin
  • [EDIT to withdraw**] Shine, by Lauren Myracle
  • Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt
  • [EDIT to add*] Chime, by Franny Billingsley


  • Head Off & Split, by Nikky Finney
  • The Chameleon Couch, by Yusef Komunyakaa
  • Double Shadow, by Carl Phillips
  • Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems: 2007 – 2010, by Adrienne Rich
  • Devotions, by Bruce Smith


  • The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, by Deborah Baker
  • Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution, by Mary Gabriel
  • The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt
  • A Life of Reinvention: Malcolm X, by Manning Marable
  • Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, by Lauren Redniss


  • The Sojourn, by Andrew Krivak
  • The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht (my review here)
  • The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka
  • Binocular Vision, by Edith Pearlman
  • Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward

As usual, I don’t have a lot to say about any of the categories other than fiction (and even there, I don’t have a lot). Of the titles for young people, my wife has talked to me about Shine, which apparently is about a hate crime and apparently describes it fairly graphically. Some parents were in an uproar, saying things like we shouldn’t let our children see such things. Apparently the first time a child should confront a hate crime is when one is actually being perpetrated. To acknowledge in a book for young people that kids are dying all over the country due to hate is apparently inappropriate. From my tone, you can see I disagree. I just hope the book itself is good and isn’t getting nominated simply because of the issue.

Of the fiction titles, the only one I have read is The Tiger’s Wife. I hoped Eugenides’ new (is it too new? — I just checked and no it isn’t; books published between December 10, 2010 and November 30, 2011 were eligible) book would be on there, as I wanted more of an excuse to read it sooner than later. I have Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision (again, my wife got it for me months ago), and I see I need to pull it out. I don’t really know much about the other titles, but I’m not, at this point, dying to go read the whole list. That’s more due to past experience with the NBA (and, in particular, the Booker) as it is to these books. For the record, I found enjoyment in The Tiger’s Wife, but I didn’t love it.

*UPDATE (October 12, 2011)

What an embarrasment! In the comments below, Michael, a local Mookse and Gripeser, brought this to my attention: It turns out that in the YA category, Lauren Myracle’s Shine was not supposed to be a finalist. There was a miscommunication — obviously — and the judges’ real finalist was Franny Billingsley’s Chime. (Click here for the BBC news article.) ShineChime, I guess that we should have seen this coming since it seems 9 out of 10 YA novels have those similar one-word titles. Yes, a miscommunication, and apparently several misteps along the way that prevented some kind of double check. They have decided not to eliminate Myracle at this point; rather, they have added Chime as the sixth finalist. I can appreciate the organizers’ desire to avoid embarrassing Myracle by removing her from consideration, but, honestly . . . She isn’t going to win since the judges didn’t make her a finalist in the first place. Also, can she ever really use the “National Book Award Finalist” sticker in good faith? Well, to limit the embarrasment, the public line is not that it was a mistake to include Shine but that the judges decided to add Chime to the list as well.

**UPDATE (October 17, 2011)

Today Lauren Myracle withdrew her book from the list of finalists, apparently at the request the National Book Foundation (see the PW report here). What a devastating week this must have been for her, all due to major failures on the part of the National Book Foundation. The error reportedly occurred when the organization misheard the judges report the finalists over the phone! What a stupid way to pass a list on. And how stupid that there was never a double check. There will be from now on, I assume (perhaps wrongly). This whole thing was entirely foreseeable and avoidable, but I guess most stupid errors are. The National Book Foundation is rightfully embarrassed. I wonder what changed their mind: they were initially going to keep Shine on the list, though already tainted. Honestly, it’s a bit surprising Myracle didn’t voluntarily withdraw sooner, and without prompting from the Foundation. It’s not like she was going to win, and I have a hard time imagining ever wanting to publish the next book with the “National Book Award finalist” blurb, knowing that it was more of a clerical error. I know sales are sales, but I have a hard time believing that was the motivating factor. It is possible that Myracle was more interested in making sure her book got some publicity because of its content: hate crimes against gay youths. It seem reasonable to me to keep the book there, regardless of the embarrassment, so that some people will at least consider its message. And some benefit came about from this anyway: as partial penance, the National Book Foundation is donating $5000 to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, a LGTB rights organization (click here for their page).

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