Right around this time of year, I run out of things to say about book awards. By now all the big literary competitions have either come and gone or at the very least announced their finalists. Some, like the PEN fiction awards, have already voted in winner sbut like to ramp up the suspense by not announcing them for another month or two. By now we’ve seen all the longlists, the novels that have popped up everywhere like dandelions and the surprise breakthroughs that we’ve exclaimed over and vowed to read someday. After a certain point, for those of us who follow these things recreationally-but-attentively, there just isn’t a whole lot more to say (other than keeping a running tally on The Millions’s very Jamesian scorecard—and by Jamesian I mean Bill, not Henry or William).
So in the interest of leaving off with all the stats and metrics, I just want note that the announcement I’m most looking forward to this month is the shortlist for The Center for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. Because… well, I’m sorry I can’t put it more critically, but that’s just a very pretty longlist. You’ve got your front-runners and your dark horses, big publishers and small presses, and really, not a single one that I wouldn’t gladly drop everything and read (except for the ones I’ve already dropped everything and read). Part of what makes the list so tasty, I think, is that the finalists are nominated by some 50 booksellers from indie bookstores all over the country—a kind of large-scale hand sell that carries a nice sense of justice. Recent winners include Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which got lots of additional attention, and Bonnie Nadzam’s wonderful, discomfiting Lamb, which didn’t get nearly enough.
The prize’s main sponsor is Nancy Dunnan, coauthor of—among other works—The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette. With a $10,000 first prize and an additional $1,000 going to each of the shortlisted finalists, I’d say that’s a very civil display of literary manners. Mostly, though, it’s a great-looking longlist. I’m not quite ready to start thinking about the 2015 award cycle, but checking out the novels featured here should keep me busy for a while.