January 23rd, 2011 / 11:02 am

NBCC finalists 2010

Any surprises? Anything here you want to read but haven’t? Anything here you read but wish you didn’t. (Matt Bell has one that I know of!) [NOTE: I didn’t mean that I wish I hadn’t read Matt’s book. I am very happy to have read it. I meant he’s reading a book on this list and may or may not wish – see comments below – he wasn’t.] Do you care about prizes, or are they just dumb? A creative writing professor once told that the only people who really care about prizes are the other people who give out prizes, meaning: prizes neither reflect the “goodness” of the writing nor do they impact sales, etc., BUT one prize often leads to another prize leads to another prize, and on and on. [Full press release here.]


Jennifer Egan, A Visit From The Goon Squad, Knopf

Jonathan Franzen. Freedom. Farrar, Straus And Giroux.

David Grossman, To The End Of The Land. Knopf.

Hans Keilson.Comedy In A Minor Key. Farrar, Straus And Giroux

Paul Murray. Skippy Dies. Faber & Faber.


Sarah Bakewell. How To Live, Or A Life Of Montaigne. Other Press

Selina Hastings. The Secret Lives Of Somerset Maugham: A Biography. Random House.

Yunte Huang. Charlie Chan: The Untold Story Of The Honorable Detective And His Rendezvous With American History. Norton.

Thomas Powers. The Killing Of Crazy Horse. Knopf.

Tom Segev. Simon Wiesenthal: The Lives And Legends. Doubleday


Kai Bird, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978, Scribner

David Dow, The Autobiography of an Execution, Twelve

Christopher Hitchens Hitch-22: A Memoir, Twelve

Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, Hiroshima in the Morning, Feminst Press

Patti Smith, Just Kids, Ecco

Darin Strauss, Half a Life, McSweeney’s


Elif Batuman. The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Terry Castle, The Professor and Other Writings. Harper

Clare Cavanagh. Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West. Yale University Press.

Susan Linfield. The Cruel Radiance. University of Chicago Press.

Ander Monson. Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir. Graywolf


Barbara Demick. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. Spiegel & Grau

S.C. Gwynne. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American, Scribner

Jennifer Homans. Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet. Random

Siddhartha Mukherjee. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Scribner

Isabel Wilkerson. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Random


Anne Carson. Nox. New Directions

Kathleen Graber. The Eternal City. Princeton University Press

Terrance Hayes. Lighthead. Penguin Poets

Kay Ryan. The Best of It. Grove

C.D. Wright. One with Others: [a little book of her days]. Copper Canyon

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  1. Sal Pane

      No Super Sad True Love Story?

  2. bac

      Are you saying you wish you hadn’t read the Bell?

  3. lily hoang

      no way. i meant i know matt bell has a book on that list he wished he didn’t read.

  4. bac

      ah. i tried reading skippy dies, but someone dies by choking on a doughnut in some sort of eating contest on the first page–skippy, I think. and, I don’t know, that’s lame. to me.

  5. mdbell79

      I think it’s interesting that Ander Monson’s book is listed under Criticism. I’m not sure I understand that categorization. I mean, I suppose I could make a case for it, but it seems a stretch. Under Nonfiction, that’d be a sure pick, on my part. Anyone know the reasoning behind its placement?

      Lily, I haven’t finished the book you’re claiming I wish I hadn’t read, so maybe it’s that I wish I wasn’t reading it? I’m working on it though. And I’ll still probably be glad I read it, because I’ll have the evidence to yell loudly at people in bars, whenever they try to bring it up.

      For what it’s worth, I’ve only read two and a half of these books. The two I’ve read–Monson’s and Carson’s–are both pretty great, and easy to recommend.

  6. Anonymous

      I wish I hadn’t read SKIPPY DIES.

  7. Justin Taylor

      Okay, I’ve got predictions-

      Biography- Tom Segev.

      Autobiography- Darin Strauss.

      Criticism- Elif Batuman.

      Nonfiction- No idea, though if I basing the choice solely on the difficulty of the subject undertaken, I’d give it to Barbara Demick.

      Poetry- Anne Carson or C.D. Wright; I’m thinking C.D. squeezes it out.

      Fiction- too close to call, but I think they just threw Franzen in to prove they weren’t going to snub him like the Nat’l Book Awards did. The real contenders are Egan, Murray and Grossman.

  8. Lincoln Michel

      No “The Ask”?

  9. lily hoang

      I stand corrected, Mr Bell.

      Would you say Nox is poetry? (speaking of categorizations)

  10. lily hoang

      I agree with you, Justin, for your first four categories. I’m going with Egan for Fiction and CD for Poetry (if we’re playing the predicting game, which is always fun). That being said, I haven’t read Freedom. I’ve heard mixed – very mixed – reviews.

  11. mdbell79

      I would say Nox is at least poetry. It’s obviously got more than the average book of poetry to it, but it is also poetry. my question about Vanishing Point is more that, as I read its intent, it is a book of essays mostly about Monson, and also, to some degree, about the form of the essay itself. So I think there’s a case that could be made that it’s criticism about the form or genre of non-fiction itself. But I don’t think that’s the book’s primary function, or its first genre.

      Not that it really matters, of course. I’m happy for Monson that he’s been nominated, and glad to see a book I loved get some additional attention.

  12. reynard

      i just bought nox about a week ago, i’m excited by the idea of it

  13. Gino

      All of the writers in the fiction category with they could write like Sam Lipsyte.

  14. deadgod

      Is it that Vanishing Point is an assemblage of essais, trials of oneself and one’s attention, and is scattered like a crystal refracts?

      The ‘non-fiction’ category seems to me to be more unitary, more focused on one topic (or the many topics generated by a more unitary focus).

      ‘Non-fiction’ also looks more like journalism and less like opinion – less subjectively disclosive and more objectively demonstrated.

      ( – these distinctions not admitting of no overlap, and easily deconstructed, but no less practical for that.)

  15. deadgod

      [Lily, you’ve repeated the NBCC press release’s different treatment of the title of Wilkerson’s “non-fiction” book.]

  16. bac

      how far did you get into it? what was the flaw?

  17. Anonymous

      I read the whole book. Part of a work bookclub thing. They know I read all day, so if i skip out, I hear all kinds of shit.

      It’s frequently funny, though not as funny as most reviews claim, but topically (frequent topics: cliques, anorexia, depression, pills, overeating, cutting, technology, drugs) it’s sentimental and pretty tired.

      Murray can write some pretty sentences, though. Not really exciting, but pretty.

  18. bac

      yeah, like i said, i couldn’t get past the first 50 pages. it just seemed forced to me.

  19. zusya

      Nothing to Envy is a pretty good read, humanizes the plight of ordinary North Koreans in a really impactful way

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  25. Amber

      The Barbara Demick is absolutely the best nonfiction I read last year. She definitely deserves it.

  26. mdbell79

      I think some of the distinctions you’re making here make sense to me, at least for the purposes of understanding the above. And really, the more I think about it, the easier the case for criticism is to make. It still doesn’t seem quite right, but maybe it’s actually a bold choice, and one I should be happy about rather than questioning.

  27. deadgod

      Well, it’s not exactly “right” – Monson isn’t re-viewing some cultural event(s) in a forensic way, and nor is he writing ‘history’ of a sort. – except insofar as he’s the cultural or historical event. But, given the pragmatic constraints of this small handful of categories, his book/website is more critique than it is either autobiography or journalism, to me.

      If writer foax are going to write quirkily, then, hell, they’re going to get pegged quirkily. As you suggest, at least Vanishing Point is getting a little of the oxygen that might otherwise have been respired by Snooki studies or the foxgoebbelsite construction of Big Lies.

      (I’m a supporter of Aristotelian pigeonholing and of (I think: also Aristotelian) quarreling with specific pigeonholes and with pigeonholing as a completely truth-disclosive process.)

  28. Josephriippi

      I wish Keilson were a contender. COMEDY IN A MINOR KEY was excellent.

  29. Sean

      I haven’t been around The Internets for a bit, so late on this, but the Monson book is an odd choice in that category. Maybe it argues for the book as not so easy to categorize? Readers of this book know what I mean.

      I just read my first T Bernhard (thanks HTML!) and he says, I am paraphrasing, that awards are an opportunity to be urinated on. Bernhard says he does like the money (he has accepted awards).

      BTW, as a prof, a lot of universities like to see awards. A pre-tenure prof might try for this reason. After tenure, he/she has played the game and might stop trying for awards.

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