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Wednesday, 18 April 2012


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Does it still carry the 10,000$ prize?

Unfortunately I can't participate as I have not read any new US fiction this past year. Something I might rectify if you get some interesting nominations here.

Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson
Zero History by William Gibson
Two of my favorite authors; maybe not their absolute best work, but worthy of recogniztion.

David Foster Wallace's The Pale King gets my whole-hearted nomination. I know his short career has been heaped with praise already, but this was the first work of his I'd read and my response to it is sincere. In other words, I'm not jumping on the bandwagon of a heralded name in contemporary American literature as an easy 'right answer' to the nomination.

Despite being unfinished at the time of Wallace's death, I actually found it more readable than that darling of the literary-minded, Infinite Jest (which I'm slowly picking my way through now, with considerably less enjoyment than The Pale King). This suggests that either Wallace was in the process of adopting a different narrative style, or, intriguingly, that by not 'finishing' the book, he didn't have the chance to introduce the obfuscations and disjointed narrative that characterize his other novels. I admit that some of some of my fascination with the book is precisely due to its being unfinished, and the tantalizing window into the author's process that that offers (Kafka's The Castle is another of my favorites, for that reason), but that aspect aside, I found the book utterly captivating and I think about it often.

Twenty or more novels a year seems like a high standard, unless you want to limit nominations to people who read only novels. Would it be too complicated to say something like, 25 books/year of which at least 12 must be novels?

Like you, I'm mostly a non-fiction reader so disqualified from making any actual nominations. (Do you suppose there's a correlation between ranking photography high among the arts and being mostly a non-fiction reader?)

I read a lot, but not in the mainstream, and often not that recent. The restriction that it be an American author on top of that pretty much bumps me out; I glanced over the list for last year, but didn't see anything that really fit.

Have fun!

Three nominations of books I've read (or listened to):

1. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Very contemporary story that uses baseball to delve into personal maturity, and sexuality on a college campus. It's more about people than baseball, but I enjoyed how well the author conveys the intricacies about the sport.

2. Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks
By one of my favorite novelists, this too is a very contemporary tale that provides a multi-dimensional look at a young registered sex offender and the challenges he faces as an outcast in Florida. The story is very conversational in tone and I found it more effective to listen to an audiobook version. A book that lingers in the mind for a long while.

3. Man in the Woods: A Novel by Scott Spencer
Spencer's characters are almost three dimensional. A morality tale of sorts that is not preachy and is very hard to put down. My wife and I felt like we knew these people in real life.


I am a fiction reader, but when I checked my pile of bedside books my fiction was old stuff, like "The Stories of Vladimir Nabakov." Nabakov writes with a photographer's eye, often describing the quality of light in a detailed, appealing way. I have the Kay Ryan collection that won the Pulitzer last year, a few memoirs, and Lucretius' The Nature of Things for when I really want to sleep fast. No 2011 fiction, which kind of surprises me. But if Sherman Alexie had written something, I'd likely have nominated his work. He should have won for both The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. Sorry I couldn't help. : )

Despite being way down on reading these days from twenty or thirty years ago, I read well over 60 books a year, the vast majority of them novels. That's less than 10% of the books published "in my field" (science fiction and fantasy, the field I care about), and an even smaller proportion of the novels published overall.

So it 25 doesn't seem at all high a bar from my viewpoint. If I were reading Pulitzer-type materials, that is.

I don't know when people find time to watch television, though.

I don't have credentials as impressive as a Pulitzer Prize, but I did once win a "Putzer" for a six-word novel. (It's six letters.) Anyway I do read more than 50 novels a year but usually wait for paperbacks unless there's a new John Sanford, making me late for most nominating purposes. Seriously, if it's OK to consider novels that have a bit of a plot in addition to wonderful writing and haunting ideas, please look at Thomas H. Cook. The Quest For Anna Klein was published in 2011.

'Feast day of Fools' by James Lee Burke is a
masterpiece. James has been writing novels for some time but the beauty of his prose and the depth of his allegory are unsurpassed in this novel.


Pale King

I used to write fiction, and in fact had a few short stories published in legitimate magazines. But I no longer have much patience with fiction as a genre, and I wonder if it's a function of growing older - I feel like time is short, and all fiction is ultimately about the author's affectations, the idea of which now annoys me.

Vladimir Nabokov was so good they should have either stopped awarding the prize of given it to him ad infinitum. Really.

And to all of you who mostly read non-fiction: What the hell's the matter with you?

I don't read 20 novels a year, not anymore. You see, in 2010 I read the first of the Twilight series and found it so beautifully exquisite I knew no other book could ever match it, and certainly never surpass it. So I stopped reading fiction.

Now I read The Economist, Rolling Stone and TOP. Granted there's some fiction in those, but nobody ever said economy was an exact science.

Best novel of the year? The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. Second book of a trilogy, which frankly is a relief because

In an era where some of the biggest cultural touchstones are fantasy (Harry Potter, Game of Thrones) I would argue that getting to know the good stuff (and this is VERY good stuff) is as important as keeping track of whats considered to be important in the "literary" world

As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner.

Steve Rosenblum: "The Tiger's Wife" by Tea Obreht.

I'll put my hand up for that too. Interesting to see young writers from the Balkans grappling with that sad episode and Obreht does it extremely well. Perhaps the touches of magic realism are the best way for her to approach the horrors.

I believe that "Pale King" suffers from not being quite finished, but worthwhile for readers who like DFW.

The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks by Donald Harington.
I just finished A Visit From the Goon Squad, not bad.

"That's where serious issues are semi-engaged in fiction. "Serious" books tend to examine why college professors have affairs with students, and should they really?"

Very similar to British fiction then - Ian McEwan, Martin Amis et al.

Try some W G Sebald - Austerlitz. This is a very deep and dense book, rather like accompanying someone in a dream or a stream of thought. Reading it is a rather wonderful and thought provoking experience, although it does deal with some very dark subject matter, including the Nazi death camps in Poland, Terezin in particular. The books central character was a child refugee and the book details his search for his family history.

It also has an abundance of references to photography and a great many images included within the text. In fact I became aware of the book through an exhibition of photographs by the Portuguese photographer, Daniel Blaufuks at the Ffotogallery in South Wales, his exhibition is inspired by the book and his family experience of growing up in Portugalas Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe.



I just keep reading The Great Gatsby over and over, maybe the first American book to hit the nail on the head in defining the new era American standard relationship between money and love.

Anyway, I have no problem with the committee not awarding anything in this category. Either the "best" book wasn't entered, or there wasn't a book up to their standards.

I remember a big controversy in the local "addy" type awards about twenty years ago, when the committee for judging, mostly comprised of out of town professionals, decided not to award a few categories because the work just wasn't up to snuff. Some of the local agencies who, let's face it, had been winning local awards for years by copying their ads for their local clients, out of last years Communication Arts contest winners; were steaming mad, but I thought the contest actually had reached a new professional high-point!

In the last 25 years? I'd gladly vote for Oscar Hijuelo's Mr. Ives' Christmas. A beautifully written, subtle meditation on life, love, tragedy & happiness. It changed my life, at least a little, by teaching me a bit of humility regarding where people are coming from.

And I wouldn't dismiss Empire Falls (or Nobody's Fool) quite so quickly. Richard Russo really nails the reality of rural rust-belt life, for better and worse.

Can we call it the Toplitzer?

Interesting comments on this thread. I am with Paul Richardson (I have an unpublishable novel to my name) and wonder if age brings with it increasing intolerance of fiction as a medium to stir emotion. Also, after reading Atomised by Michel Houellebecq I thought there was nothing further to be said by the form - ridiculous, I know, but the feeling has never really left me.

ok so the hardcover came out in 2010... but Jim Carroll's unfinished goodbye to us all, Petting Zoo is a bible for visual artists. He tells us all about Art Market Politics and how to live in this crazy world. He's sorely missed. I think he'd look like this if he was still a 20 year old f-up

I strongly disagree with Camp. Oscar Wao and Middlesex were both fantastic books that moved me. And I've read plenty of other novels over the last 10 years that I thought were wonderful. Plus, his comment that the Road is sci-fi "disguised as serious literature" seems about 50 years out of date.

Dear John Camp,

The Pale King is sitting next to my bed and I haven't gotten to it yet--but I will. However, if you are going back 25 years then I will say that the other book (Infinite Jest) by the three-named author is, in fact, the novel by an American author that has, on some level, changed the way I think about my life. Since you asked...

I tried reading one 2011 novel: 1Q84. But I didn't finish it. Also it's Japanese.

So close... the hardcover came out november 2010! Adam Levins version of War and Peace, he called it the Instructions! Dude its a blue print about how to start a rebellion in elementary school language. He's a cross between Roth and Wallace, so short and punchy and also infinte jest length!

I read enough 'thought provoking' books. I like my fiction as a joy ride. No thinking needed riding a roller coaster, yet very joyful.

Two of many fun reads from 2011 include:
John Sandford's 'Shock Wave' and William Kent Krueger's Northwest Angle.

I seem to like writers with upper Midwest roots.

+1 for lost memory of skin. Its barely fiction... if you want to put yourself in a lepers skin READ IT!!!

Difficult to go wrong with Franzen (keeping in mind that his most recent novel was published in 2009).

I agree with Al. James Lee Burke is way over due for more recognition. John Camp/Sanford is one of my all-time favorites for intriguing characters and page-turning story lines that are extremely entertaining, but I just find a little more "meat" in Burke's slower-paced and more introspective novels. Going from Lucas Davenport to Dave Robicheaux is a welcome change of pace though. And it looks like I'm going to have to take a look at Nabokov.

I'll keep an eye on this but don't have my hopes up. I have a bunch of classic fiction to catch up with (not quite old enough to have been waiting for the new Graham Greene) and have yet to be distracted by recent modern books that anyone seems to be very enthusiastic about (either I don't read the rigth magazines or noone's enthusiastic...).
The Road though, wonderfully written.

I'll second Neil Stephenson and William Gibson. Although my hard cover Zero History is dated 2010. Also Gibson seems to write trilogies even though they aren't pitched as such if that matters. I'm not sure Stephenson's Reamde is his best but his wordcraft is exceptional. If Denzel Washington got his Oscar for Training Day, but deserved it for Malcom X then Neal or William could get the Puliitzer for a lifetime achievement that's not over yet.

The Revisionists, by Thomas Mullen. His third novel, all very different, all a bit quirky (and yes, he's my second cousin though I've only met him once). An allegory, a dream, post 9-11 paranoid security state. Great read!

John Sayles's A Moment In The Sun. One of the most amazing novels I have ever read, It wore me out! Extraordinary historical detail. It was the highlight of my day to return to it's pages.

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