National Book Award Winners Announced

Posted: November 16, 2006 in Hot Book News

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2006 National Book Award Winners:

Fiction:

Richard Powers – The Echo Maker

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From Publishers WeeklyStarred Review. A truck jackknifes off an “arrow straight country road” near Kearney, Nebr., in Powers’s ninth novel, becoming the catalyst for a painstakingly rendered minuet of self-reckoning. The accident puts the truck’s 27-year-old driver, Mark Schluter, into a 14-day coma. When he emerges, he is stricken with Capgras syndrome: he’s unable to match his visual and intellectual identifications with his emotional ones. He thinks his sister, Karin, isn’t actually his sister—she’s an imposter (the same goes for Mark’s house). A shattered and worried Karin turns to Gerald Weber, an Oliver Sacks–like figure who writes bestsellers about neurological cases, but Gerald’s inability to help Mark, and bad reviews of his latest book, cause him to wonder if he has become a “neurological opportunist.” Then there are the mysteries of Mark’s nurse’s aide, Barbara Gillespie, who is secretive about her past and seems to be much more intelligent than she’s willing to let on, and the meaning of a cryptic note left on Mark’s nightstand the night he was hospitalized. MacArthur fellow Powers (Gold Bug Variations, etc.) masterfully charts the shifting dynamics of Karin’s and Mark’s relationship, and his prose—powerful, but not overbearing—brings a sorrowful energy to every page. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Nonfiction:

Timothy Egan – The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Egan tells an extraordinary tale in this visceral account of how America’s great, grassy plains turned to dust, and how the ferocious plains winds stirred up an endless series of “black blizzards” that were like a biblical plague: “Dust clouds boiled up, ten thousand feet or more in the sky, and rolled like moving mountains” in what became known as the Dust Bowl. But the plague was man-made, as Egan shows: the plains weren’t suited to farming, and plowing up the grass to plant wheat, along with a confluence of economic disaster—the Depression—and natural disaster—eight years of drought—resulted in an ecological and human catastrophe that Egan details with stunning specificity. He grounds his tale in portraits of the people who settled the plains: hardy Americans and immigrants desperate for a piece of land to call their own and lured by the lies of promoters who said the ground was arable. Egan’s interviews with survivors produce tales of courage and suffering: Hazel Lucas, for instance, dared to give birth in the midst of the blight only to see her baby die of “dust pneumonia” when her lungs clogged with the airborne dirt. With characters who seem to have sprung from a novel by Sinclair Lewis or Steinbeck, and Egan’s powerful writing, this account will long remain in readers’ minds. (Dec. 14)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Young People’s Literature:

M.T. Anderson – The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party

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From School Library JournalStarred Review. Grade 9 Up–In this fascinating and eye-opening Revolution-era novel, Octavian, a black youth raised in a Boston household of radical philosophers, is given an excellent classical education. He and his mother, an African princess, are kept isolated on the estate, and only as he grows older does he realize that while he is well dressed and well fed, he is indeed a captive being used by his guardians as part of an experiment to determine the intellectual acuity of Africans. As the fortunes of the Novanglian College of Lucidity change, so do the nature and conduct of their experiments. The boy’s guardians host a pox party where everyone is inoculated with the disease in hopes that they will then be immune to its effects, but, instead, Octavian’s mother dies. He runs away and ends up playing the fiddle and joining in the Patriots’ cause. He’s eventually captured and brought back to his household where he’s bound and forced to wear an iron mask until one of his more sympathetic instructors engineers his escape. Readers will have to wait for the second volume to find out the protagonist’s fate. The novel is written in 18th-century language from Octavian’s point of view and in letters written by a soldier who befriends him. Despite the challenging style, this powerful novel will resonate with contemporary readers. The issues of slavery and human rights, racism, free will, the causes of war, and one person’s struggle to define himself are just as relevant today. Anderson’s use of factual information to convey the time and place is powerfully done.–Sharon Rawlins, NJ Library for the Blind and Handicapped, Trenton
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Poetry:

Nathaniel Mackey – Splay Anthem

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From Publishers WeeklyPublished in installments across several decades, Mackey’s two epic series—one called Mu, the other Song of the Andoumboulou—bring the attitudes of free jazz and the reverberating patterns of West African ensemble music to the goals of the American encyclopedic long poem à la Charles Olson. The mysterious, even hermetic, new verse extends both of Mackey’s epics, even (as his prose foreword explains) merging them, so that they form one enormous text describing a mystical quest. Mackey’s figures seek the source of inspiration, and his dense stanzas track their uneven progress; “We” pursue it, by foot, train or boat, into realms of fable and myth, via chants, archival and esoteric references, portmanteau words and archeological research. “Atless” (that is, lost without a map) and given to interjections like “wuh,” Mackey’s crew crosses the “City of Lag” on the “Not Yet Express,” as the poet himself sends his spirit “up/ Unreal Street unstrung” in search of new sounds and rituals. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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