Lord of Misrule and City of Thieves

 

The 2010 National Book Award winners were announced last week. A total of 1,115 books were submitted by publishers: 302 fiction, 435 nonfiction, 148 poetry, and 230 “young people’s literature”. You can listen to the whole awards ceremony and read interviews with all the author finalists at the NBA Web site. Don’t miss the hilarious Totally Hip Book Reviewer video on the NBA fiction finalists by Washington Post critic Ron Charles.

The National Book Award winner for fiction is Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon, a very late release about a race horse, that still isn’t widely available. While you’re waiting for it, you may want to brush up on your thoroughbred horse knowledge with a copy of Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand, who has just topped herself with another bestselling book, Unbroken: A World War II Airman’s Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, which is also so new it’s hard to get from the library yet.

For a great fictional World War II story of survival, resilience, and redemption, pick up David Benioff’s novel City of Thieves. Set during the siege of Leningrad, City of Thieves is an action-packed story of a crazy quest for a dozen eggs in a country where chickens are such a forgotten memory that the meat in those pale-looking meat patties sold on the black market is quite possibly human flesh. The novel’s dark humor about average human beings facing starvation, war, and death has something in common with The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak and the movie La Vita e Bella (Life Is Beautiful), but it outdoes both of these in the amount of creative obscenity- and profanity-laced Russian-style cursing from both soldiers and civilians.
Check availability of City of Thieves by David Benioff in the Old Colony Library Network catalog.
Check availability of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand in the Old Colony Library Network catalog.
Check availability of Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand in the Old Colony Library Network catalog.

Best of 2010 Book Lists

>The best of 2010 lists have started! A music and culture blog, Largehearted Boy, will help you keep up with daily updates to a list of “Best of 2010” book lists, from specific lists like Chess Book of the Year and Best Cookbooks of 2010 to general lists from Amazon, Booklist, the Huffington Post, Publishers Weekly, etc. There’s even a link to a list of the 10 best “Best of” books of 2010 on the Jacket Copy blog.
General “Best of 2010” book lists imply that all books published that year have been sifted through and all possible finalists shortlisted and read. An impossible task, even with a committee working on the list. Maybe that’s why The New York Times publishes a “Notable Books” of the year list in addition to a “10 Best Books” list. These lists usually come out in December as a gift-buying guide. (Click here to see the New York Times Best Books of 2009 list. Ouch! I only got around to reading one of the five recommended fiction books — A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore — but it was one of my favorite books last year, so I’m glad it made the list.) How many of the best books of 2010 can we read before the 2011 books start appearing? Which to read first?
So far, my personal “Best Novels of 2010” list includes, in order of most recently read:

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (yes, along with most everyone else!)
The Passage by Justin Cronin (first in, apparently, a very long trilogy)
The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst (author of The Dogs of Babel)
Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott (Canadian author)
The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller (playwright’s response to 9/11)
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (linked stories)
So Much for That by Lionel Shriver (terminal illness)
Blackout by Connie Willis (sequel out now, All Clear, time travel)
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris (disturbing neurological condition)
The Privileges by Jonathan Dee (rich people and their problems)
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (young adult fantasy, prequel)

    Others that I would like to read are showing up on many lists:

    The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
    The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
    The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
    Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
    Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
    To the End of the Land by David Grossman

      Room by Emma Donoghue is a recently published novel I don’t know if I will read, although it’s showing up on several best books lists. It’s about a five-year-old boy who lives caged up in a small room with his mother. Read the New York Times review here to see whether you want to try it.
      What 2010 novels or short stories do I need to add to my must-read list?

      American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

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      I liked Curtis Sittenfeld’s first two novels, Prep and The Man of My Dreams, but I put off reading American Wife, which came out in 2008, because it was based on the life of Laura Bush. Advance notices made the novel sound like a politically motivated invasion of privacy that created a scandalous life for Laura Bush whom I believe — famous or not — has a right to her privacy. Plus, gossip is unpleasant when it’s about someone who seems genuinely nice, as Laura Bush seemed to be. Some critics of the novel also griped that the author was taking advantage of Laura Bush’s celebrity to sell books, the book’s release was timed for the Republican National Convention, etc.
      But the Random House audiobook narrator, Kimberly Farr, makes the voice of First Lady Alice Blackwell so compelling that I forgot much of the time that the character was based on Curtis Sittenfeld’s imagining what it might be like to go — like Laura Bush — from a 31-year-old unmarried, school librarian to governor’s wife and then president’s wife. If I were Laura Bush, I would be very angry about an author appropriating my life, even just the skeletal outline of it. If I were the Alice Blackwell of the book, a thoughtful, smart, self-relective, and unassuming reader of fiction, I would still be angry, but also pleased that — instead of a cardboard cutout of a celebrity in a political novel — I am represented by a complex, nuanced portrait of a woman who loves her husband (though not his politics) who keeps her ambivalence mainly to herself. (To my knowledge, Laura Bush has never made a public statement about the novel, nor does she mention it in her memoir, Spoken from the Heart, published last May.
      Written in the voice of Alice Blackwell, American Wife (as the author points out in a Salon interview) has a main character whose personality is very different from the sarcastic, judgmental narrators of Prep and The Man of My Dreams (both of whom are practically crippled from self-conscious anxiety) but Alice Blackwell does consider many of her actions and non-actions, her decisions and emotions, long and hard in the novel (Good? Bad? Forgivable? Unforgivable?), never coming down fully on one side or the other.

      Read a Joyce Carol Oates’ essay on Curtis Sittenfeld’s work from The New York Times
      Read a review from the “Everyday I Write the Book” blogger, who liked the book, but not the audio version.
      Check the Old Colony Library Network catalog for availability of American Wife.

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