Rafael Yglesias’ “A Happy Marriage” wins Times Book Prize for fiction


Rafael Yglesias took the top fiction honor Friday at the 30th annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes for his novel “A Happy Marriage,” while Dave Eggers won the current interest award for “Zeitoun,” about a Syrian immigrant swept up in the chaos of post-Katrina New Orleans.

Eggers also won The Times’ first Innovators Award. He leads McSweeney’s, which publishes books, magazines and a “shape-shifting quarterly journal.” He also founded 826 literacy centers, which help at-risk children engage with the written word. And he’s only 40.

The awards, honoring books in 10 categories, kicked off the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which will continue through Sunday at UCLA.

Just before accepting the award, which carries a prize of $1,000, Eggers offered a spirited defense of books at a time when the publishing industry is widely thought to be in crisis.

“We’re still about paper and cloth and glue and ink, and if you put care into that craft, it has the same appeal it always did,” he said. “We shouldn’t assume, always, that we’re hurtling inexorably toward some all-electronic world.”

Evan S. Connell, best known for his paired novels “Mrs. Bridge” (1959) and “Mr. Bridge” (1969), won the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement, which each year recognizes an author with a connection to the American West.

And in a first for the book prizes, a father and daughter were both up for the prize in history. Gordon S. Wood wrote “Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815” ( Oxford University Press), while his daughter Amy Louise Wood was a contender for her book “Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940” (University of North Carolina Press).

The award went, however, to Kevin Starr for “Golden Dreams: California in the Age of Abundance 1950-1963” (Oxford University Press).

For the first time, there was a category for graphic novels. David Mazzucchelli’s “Asterios Polyp” (Pantheon), which Publisher’s Weekly called “the comics equivalent” of a book by Thomas Pynchon, won.

In his opening remarks, Times Book Editor David L. Ulin spoke about the importance of reading. “In a culture of constant overflow, of toil and trouble and outright distraction, we need what books have to offer: their slowing stillness, their vertical plunge.”

Other winners:

• Biography: Linda Gordon, “ Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits” (W.W. Norton & Co.)

• Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction: Philipp Meyer, “American Rust” (Spiegel & Grau)

• Mystery/Thriller: Stuart Neville, “The Ghosts of Belfast” (Soho Press)

• Poetry: Brenda Hillman, “Practical Water” ( Wesleyan University Press)

• Science and Technology: Graham Farmelo, “The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom” (Basic Books/Perseus Book Group)

• Young Adult Fiction: Elizabeth Partridge, “Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary” (Viking Children’s Books/Penguin Group)

The publisher of “Zeitoun” is McSweeney’s; the publisher of “A Happy Marriage” is Scribner.