2012 National Book Award Finalist Roundup

  • November 8, 2012

A look at reviews of National Book Award finalists, and interviews with authors, from the Independent and around the web.

The winner of the 2012 National Book Award will be announced next Wednesday, November 14 (assuming, that is, the NBA committee doesn’t flake out the way the Pulitzer committee did!). The finalists this year are a strong and diverse group of books. Below we’ve highlighted some notable reviews and other commentary from around the web for each one. Our take on each contest is down below the links.

Do you have a favorite for the winner? Let us know below in the comments or tweet at us!

ADDED NOVEMBER 14: If you’d like to see video of the NBA Gala Dinner on November 13, with each of the finalists reading from their work, please check our homepage (below book reviews).

ALSO ADDED NOVEMBER 14: Winners were The Round House by Louise Erdrich in fiction (see our review – posted today) and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo in nonfiction. We went 0 for 2 in our predictions. Nate Silver is safe…for the moment!

(from the NBA website)

Fiction Finalists:

Junot Díaz, This Is How You Lose Her: Check out our review of the new MacArthur Fellow’s book by Nicole Gibby Munguia, as well as a terrific interview with him in Guernica, and his very thoughtful by-the-book interview with The New York Times.

Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King: Pico Iyer reviews his book for The New York Times, and Eggers talks with The New Yorker.

Louise Erdrich, The Round House: Ron Charles reviews the book for The Washington Post, see also the USA Today review. (Our own review of this book by David L. Robbins has just been posted here – 11/14/2012).

Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The Catch-22 of the Iraq War? Our review, by Bob Gibson, is here. There’s also a great interview him in The Millions.

Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds. Steve Watkins reviews this debut novel by an Iraq War veteran for us. An NPR interview with the author can be found here.

Our Analysis -  It’s a toughie, with lots of good competition. Diaz is having an incredible year and is likely the front-runner. Two books tackle the Iraq war (Fountain’s and Powers’s), with Fountain’s likely favored. (Here is an 11/13 interview with both of them in the New York Times.) And it’s hard not to notice there’s only one woman on the list. Our prediction: Billy Lynn FTW.

Nonfiction Finalists

Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956: The author of Gulag: A History returns with more Eastern European cheer! Slate has posted four excerpts of the book. See a review of the book from The Guardian.

Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. See The Huffington Post’s review, as well as this one from WSJ India. Our snapshot review of the book, by Katharine Lorr, can be found here.

Robert A. Caro, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 4. So what if it’s taking Caro longer to write LBJ’s life than it took the man to live it? Here’s Bill Clinton’s review from the New York Times, and here is ours by Walter Stahr. 

Domingo Martinez, The Boy Kings of Texas: Here is a piece from NPR, and a review from the Seattle Times.

Anthony Shadid, House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East: Here is the New York Times review, and here is the Washington Post‘s. Shadid died last February covering the conflict in Syria.

Our Analysis – Caro is certainly the best known, while it wasn’t all that easy (compared with the others) to find stuff on Martinez’s book. Applebaum and Caro probably have some degree of disadvantage because of the historical nature of their work. Hard to say how Shadid’s death may factor into the decision. Our prediction: House of Stone takes it home.

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