Rebels old and young were honored this year by the National Book Critics Circle, which announced its awards nominees Monday.
Ninety-one-old Studs Terkel, the oral historian and self-described champion of the “uncelebrated,” will receive a lifetime achievement prize. Competitive nominations went to two books released by McSweeney’s, an irreverent publishing house founded by best-selling author Dave Eggers.
Judges deserve a prize just for getting through one McSweeney’s nominee: “Rising Up and Rising Down,” William T. Vollman’s seven-volume, 3,300-page examination of violence in human history, on sale through the McSweeney’s Web site “for a special limited-time discounted price of $100.”
“I told the people who recommended this book that everybody would want to know if they read it. And they said, ‘Yes, we did,”’ said Elizabeth Taylor, president of the NBCC and Chicago Tribune book editor.
Meanwhile, critics bypassed some of the year’s most talked about books, including the English translation of Nobel laureate Gabriel Gabriel Marquez’s memoir, “Living to Tell the Tale,” and Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee’s new novel, “Elizabeth Costello.”
Other eligible books missing from the final selections: Shirley Hazzard’s “The Great Fire,” winner of the National Book Award for fiction; Jonathan Lethem’s “The Fortress of Solitude”; and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” by Britain’s J.K. Rowling.
While the National Book Awards are restricted to U.S. authors, NBCC members can nominate any book published in English during the previous year.
Winners will be announced March 4 in New York.
Susan Sontag was nominated for criticism for “Regarding the Pain of Others,” a partial refutation of her influential “On Photography,” which won the NBCC in 1978. Edward P. Jones’ “The Known World,” a National Book Award finalist, was among the fiction nominees, and Anne Applebaum’s “Gulag,” another NBA finalist, was cited in the general nonfiction category.
Monica Ali’s “Brick Lane,” Caryl Phillips’ “A Distant Shore,” Richard Powers’ “The Time of Our Singing” and Tobias Wolff’s “Old School” were the other fiction nominees.
Also nominated for nonfiction were Carolyn Alexander’s “The Bounty,” Paul Hendrickson’s “Sons of Mississippi” and Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s “Random House.”
George Marsden, a leading religious historian, was a biography-autobiography finalist for “Jonathan Edwards.” Other nominees included Blake Bailey’s “A Tragic Honesty,” an acclaimed biography of the late fiction writer Richard Yates; Paul Elie’s “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”; Carol Loeb Schloss’ “Lucia Joyce”; and William Taubman’s “Khrushchev: The Man and His Era.”
Besides Sontag’s book, criticism nominees were Dagoberto Gilb for “Gritos,” Ross King’s “Michelangelo & the Pope’s Ceiling,” Rebecca Solnit’s “River of Shadows” and Nick Hornby for “Songbook,” a McSweeney’s publication.
Poetry finalists included Carolyn Forche’s “Blue Hour,” Tony Hoagland’s “What Narcissism Means to Me,” Venus Khoury-Ghata’s “She Says,” Susan Stewart’s “Columbarium” and Mary Szybist’s “Granted.”
The National Book Critics Circle, founded in 1974, is a not-for-profit organization of about 750 book editors and critics. The NBCC awards are prestigious, if not profitable, offering no cash prizes.