National Book Award finalists announced


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Books about Henry Ford’s failed jungle experiment and a Faulkneresque novel about the lasting effects of war on memory are among the finalists for the 2009 National Book Award, which the National Book Foundation announced this morning. Five finalists were named in four categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature.

Fiction finalists are Bonnie Jo Campbell, ‘American Salvage’ (Wayne State University Press); Colum McCann, ‘Let the Great World Spin’ (Random House); Daniyal Mueenuddin, ‘In Other Rooms, Other Wonders’ (W.W. Norton & Co.); Marcel Theroux ‘Far North’ (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); and Jayne Anne Phillips, ‘Lark and Termite’ (Alfred A. Knopf). In an interview with The Times’ Susan Salter Reynolds, Phillips described the origins of her novel:


The novel ... began with a strong image that Phillips had carried with her for three decades. ‘I was visiting a friend in Virginia, where I grew up. I looked out her window into an alley and saw a boy seated on a metal chair holding a blue strip from a dry cleaning bag. He sat there for hours.’ Yet another ingredient came in the form of the story of the massacre of hundreds of Korean civilians at No Gun Ri in 1950, reported by the Associated Press’ Charles J. Hanley in 1999 (Hanley shared a Pulitzer with two colleagues for the story in 2000).

In nonfiction, finalists are David M. Carroll’s ‘Following the Water: A Hydromancer’s Notebook’ ((Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); Sean B. Carroll, ‘Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); Adrienne Mayor, ‘The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy’ (Princeton University Press); T.J. Stiles, ‘The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt’ (Alfred A. Knopf); and Greg Grandin, ‘Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City’ (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt). Times columnist and book critic Tim Rutten called Grandin’s book a perfect merging of history with a novelist’s sense of story:

Historian Greg Grandin has taken what heretofore seemed just such a marginal event -- Henry Ford’s failed attempt to establish a gigantic agricultural industrial complex in the heart of Brazil’s Amazon Basin -- and turned it into a fascinating historical narrative that illuminates the auto industry’s contemporary crisis, the problems of globalization and the contradictions of contemporary consumerism. For all of that, this is not, however, history freighted with political pedantry. Grandin is one of a blessedly expanding group of gifted American historians who assume that whatever moral the story of the past may yield, it must be a story well told.

More of the finalists after the jump:

Poetry finalists:

Rae Armantrout, ‘Versed’ (Wesleyan University Press)
Ann Lauterbach, ‘Or to Begin Again’ (Viking Penguin)
Carl Phillips, ‘Speak Low’ (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, ‘Open Interval’ (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Keith Waldrop, ‘Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy’ (University of California Press)
Young people’s literature:

Deborah Heiligman, ‘Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith’ (Henry Holt)
Phillip Hoose, ‘Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice’ (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
David Small, ‘Stitches’ (W. W. Norton)
Laini Taylor, ‘Lips Touch: Three Times’ (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Rita Williams-Garcia, ‘Jumped’ (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)
One final note: The inclusion of David Small’s ‘Stitches’ on the young adult list comes as something of a surprise. Does this graphic novel really fall under the category of YA? Read our review, by critic Paula L. Woods, and you decide.

-- Nick Owchar

Image credit: National Book Awards