The National Book Critics Circle announced its 2010 NBCC Award finalists on Saturday night. It looks to be their typical pack of contenders—a combination of popular favorites and more obscure picks, a few predictable choices and a few from way out in left field. The fiction selections are nearly all books that made the majority of “best of” lists last year, with the exception of Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key, the recent translation (by Damion Searls) of a German novella originally published in 1947. The other categories mix things up a bit more, though they’re not terribly adventurous in terms of bringing smaller presses into play. Still, there are two books from Twelve Publishers—that’s one-sixth of their year’s offerings.
Over at The Daily Beast, NBCC president Jane Ciabattari provides some insight into the board’s history and selection process. Although it originated at the same Algonquin Hotel as the infamous Round Table—also known as the Vicious Circle—this particular circle of critics is opinionated but presumably a bit less caustic:
In the mid-1970s, the NBCC’s founding members, John Leonard, Nona Balakian, Barbara Bannon, Eliot Fremont-Smith, Peter S. Prescott, Ivan Sandrof, and others, gathered at the Algonquin to savage or champion the writers of their times. Reminiscences from the 1980s are filled with references to Elizabeth Hardwick. (One former board member noted that she claimed at one point that to choose between two particular books was akin to “voting between a flea and a louse.”)
Today the NBCC board is fueled more by caffeine than alcohol. The yearlong deliberations occur mostly online, with three mostly civil, occasionally contentious in-person board meetings a year.
Civilized or not, I wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall during the final days of discussion. I’ve heard they can be… lively.
The full list of finalists is as follows:
How To Live, Or a Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell
The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography by Selina Hastings
Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang
The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers
Simon Wiesenthal: The Lives and Legends by Tom Segev
Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978 by Kai Bird
The Autobiography of an Execution by David Dow
Hitch-22: A Memoir by Christopher Hitchens
Hiroshima in the Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Half a Life by Darin Strauss
The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman
The Professor: A Sentimental Education by Terry Castle
Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West by Clare Cavanagh
The Cruel Radiance by Susie Linfield
Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir by Ander Monson
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in America by S.C. Gwynne
Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing went went to Parul Sehgal, and the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award went to Dalkey Archive Press.
(Caricature of the original Algonquin Round Table by Al Hirschfeld.)