Want a quick overview of American literature written in the last half of the 20th century? This year the National Book Awards is celebrating it’s 60th anniversary with a-book-a-day blog. Each day for 77 days the fiction book that won is reviewed. Tidbits of fun information are passed along about the author (keep an eye out for The Book of National Book Awards Apocrypha) and the winners of other awards are listed. It’s a literary snapshot.
The National Book Award Winners
The first posting last week was the 1950 award winner, The Man with a Golden Arm by Nelson Algren. No, I hadn’t heard of the book or the author either. Yet, this is just the survey class I have the time and energy for this summer. I had no idea From Here to Eternity (1952 winner) was a book. At 850 pages I might have to wait for eternity to read it. In 1954 a Pulitzer wasn’t awarded, why? I’ll have to “google” to find out. Faulkner’s A Fable won both the National Book Award (the second time he received the award) and the Pulitzer, first time that happened. That year both Wallace Stegner and Robert Penn Warren were on the judges panel. Can you imagine Wallace Stegner and Robert Penn Warren telling you that you wrote the best American fiction of the year? Literary praise just doesn’t get any better. But even in the National Book Awards annals, there is ranking. Four writers, rather than the usual one, wrote for Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1953 winner) each commenting about the impact of the book.
I haven’t always agreed with the National Book Award choices (not that they check in with me) and I’m finding that even 50+ years ago, I would have disagreed, but today I found a book I’m going to hunt down in a used bookstore. John O’Hara won the award in 1956 for Ten North Frederick beating out O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find. The description peaked my interest. O’Hara took home the award, but O’Connor the fame and fortune; O’Hara’s book is out of print, while O’Connor’s is considered one of the best, ever.
Vote for the Best
Why is the National Book Foundation celebrating the 60th anniversary of an annual award and there are 77 book blog entries? Don’t know, I’ll have to add that to my google research list. The reviews continue until September 21st and then the public voting starts. Recently the National Book Foundation sent to writers a ballot listing all 77 books, asking the writer to vote for the best three. On September 21st the top six from that vote will be announced and the public will have one month to vote for the best. One vote per e-mail. The winner will be announced on November 18th at the Awards Ceremony.
So read the reviews, get a quick Amer. Lit. education and then vote for your favorite on September 21st.