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Books: Nobel goes to Kazuo Ishiguro, the narrative legacy of Las Vegas, Jesmyn Ward and more

There was some good news in the land of books this week: The Nobel Prize in literature was announced. That’s always good news.

THE BIG STORY

The Nobel Prize in literature went to Kazuo Ishiguro. Among literary handicappers Ishiguro wasn’t even on the radar (people placing bets in England had Ngugi-wa Thiong’o and Margaret Atwood as favorites). Perhaps that’s because he’s been a persistent bestseller in America and England, where he was raised, ever since the publication of his first book set there, “The Remains of the Day.” I wrote about Ishiguro and the Nobel here.

ESSAY

Novelist and professor Tod Goldberg lived in Las Vegas for two years and has set some of his fiction there. After the terrible shooting on Sunday, which it seems we may never fully understand, he took a long look at the city’s history, its legacy of violence and the stories we made from it. “Most of Nevada is still the literal Wild West,” he writes, “the stretch between Las Vegas and Reno filled with desolate beauty and scrub cities in all directions. Make that run in your car sometime and you … may understand how the cowboy slowly morphed into the gangster.”

REVIEWS

This week, Jesmyn Ward was named a finalist for the National Book Award for her new novel “Sing, Unburied, Sing.” Her debut, 2011’s “Salvage the Bones,” won the prestigious prize, and this proves her staying power. “She is as economical a writer, in her own way, as Hemingway, using only the necessary number of words,” writes Michelle Dean in our review. “If anything, there are times the reader wants Ward to elaborate more, not less.”

Robin Sloan hit bestseller lists with his debut, “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.” Like his first, his new novel “Sourdough,” gets a little fantastical, but this one is set in a Silicon Valley tech start-up and organic foodie culture. “It is that rare thing: a satire that has a love of what it satirizes while also functioning as a modern fairy tale about, of all things, the magic of certain carbohydrates,” writes Jeff Vandermeer in our review. (Bonus: if you haven’t seen the trailer for the adaptation of Vandermeer’s “Annihilation” yet, it’s extraordinary).

There are pleasures in literary biography, and also pitfalls. James Atlas, author of biographies of Saul Bellow and Delmore Schwartz, writes about his work and obsessions in his memoir “The Shadow in the Garden.” “The biographer is an artist on oath who must weigh all the evidence like a lawyer and always do justice to the subject,” writes Jeffrey Meyers in our review, adding, “Atlas is least interesting in the present book when he talks about himself and tries to disguise his egoism and arrogance with a veneer of mock modesty.”

MORE BOOK NEWS

If you act fast, you might be able to buy the house of the author of “The Exorcist,” William Peter Blatty, in time for Halloween. It’s in Bethesda, Md., not far from the book’s Georgetown setting, and is listed for $3.2 million; we peek inside.

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss, a children’s museum dedicated to the author’s work, will change a mural that includes characters from his book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” after objections to racial stereotypes.

The National Book Award finalists were announced Wednesday; here’s the complete list.

The bestselling restaurant-set coming of age story “Sweetbitter” by Stephanie Danler may be coming to TV.

Reports say Ansel Elgort will star in the film adaptation of Donna Tartt’s novel “The Goldfinch.”

carolyn.kellogg@latimes.com

@paperhaus

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