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Tales of rich and poor at National Book Awards

Money — or lack of it — is a common theme among this year's nominees for the National Book Awards. Winners in four competitive categories, each of whom receive $10,000, will be announced Wednesday night at the elegant Cipriani Wall Street.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Stories of rich and poor are common themes among Wednesday night's nominees for the National Book Awards.

Finalists included Bonnie Jo Campbell's short fiction about hard times in Michigan, "American Salvage"; Daniyal Mueenuddin's tales of the class divide in Pakistan, "In Other Rooms, Other Wonders"; and biographies of tycoons Cornelius Vanderbilt and Henry Ford.

Money, or lack of it, also shaded three nominated novels: Marcel Theroux's "Far North," Colum McCann's "Let the Great World Spin" and Jayne Anne Phillips' "Lark & Termite."

"Money does matter, especially when you haven't got any," Campbell said during a recent interview. "A lot of the trouble in my book comes from folks not having enough money to get by. In Michigan a lot of folks are losing their jobs, or losing their benefits when their jobs go to part-time, and that causes stress and trouble."

Winners in four competitive categories, each of whom receive $10,000, will be announced at the elegant restaurant Cipriani Wall Street, the kind of gilded hall where the likes of Vanderbilt would have roamed. Humorist Andy Borowitz, not known as a celebrant of the rich, will host and honorary medals will be presented to two other non-champions of the wealthy: Dave Eggers and Gore Vidal, to be introduced by actress and longtime friend Joanne Woodward.

T.J. Stiles' book on Vanderbilt, "The First Tycoon"; and Greg Grandin's "Fordlandia," about Ford's ill-fated effort to set up a colony in Brazil, were nonfiction nominees, along with Sean B. Carroll's "Remarkable Creatures" and David M. Carroll's journal of New England wildlife "Following the Water."

The fifth nonfiction finalist was Adrienne Mayor's "The Poison King," a biography of the Greco-Persian ruler Mithradates.

Young people's literature finalists included Deborah Heiligman's "Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith," Phillip Hoose's "Claudette Colvin," David Small's graphic work "Stitches," Laini Taylor's "Lips Touch" and Rita Williams-Garcia's "Jumped." Some commentators have questioned whether Small's book, an account of his teen years that includes cancer surgery and his mother being gay, belonged in the young people's category.

The poetry nominees were Rae Armantrout's "Versed," Ann Lauterbach's "Or to Begin Again," Carl Phillips' "Speak Low," Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon's "Open Interval" and Keith Waldrop's "Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy."