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Posts tagged ‘prizes and awards’

LA Times Book Prize Finalists

imagesFrom Jacket Copy, Carolyn Kellogg’s LA Times Book Blog:

The finalists for the 33rd L.A. Times Book Prizes were announced Thursday morning — the complete list is below. In addition to the 50 books in 10 categories that are in the running for the awards, two authors — Margaret Atwood and Kevin Starr — will receive special recognition.

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Attention Jonathan Franzen Fans

It was announced at the New Yorker Festival a couple of days ago that HBO will do an adaptation of Franzen’s The Corrections. Franzen will adapt his novel into a series, and Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) and Scott Rudin (The Social Network, Revolutionary Road) are both to be involved. There are unconfirmed rumors that Anthony Hopkins will play the lead.

Here’s a video of Franzen discussing the project with New Yorker editor David Remnick:

From the Moby Book Trailer Awards

Ron Charles accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award:

Just Kids, by Patti Smith

88738769.JPGPoet and singer/songwriter Patti Smith won the National Book Award for nonfiction with this memoir of her life with artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Seen through the filter of a few decades, and the loss of Mapplethorpe to AIDS in 1989, it’s an almost unbelievable story of two artists in their early twenties finding their way in New York City in the late 60s. They met by chance, and formed a bond that would take them from penniless obscurity to recognition as artists, on their own terms. Along the way, they lived in the infamous Chelsea Hotel, and had contact with virtually every counterculture artistic figure of the era.

Smith and Mapplethorpe, in their early years, lived their own version of La Boheme, with him as the more delicate of the two. There was a thread of romantic love that ran through their relationship till the end, even though, for much of their life together, he was in the process of discovering his attraction to men. As I read the book, I was conscious that Smith had had a few decades to gain perspective and make peace with what must have been a very difficult transition for both of them. Their deep friendship and support for each other’s artistic endeavors survived beyond the challenges of their lives, and even beyond Mapplethorpe’s early death.

This is a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in either Smith or Mapplethorpe as an artist, 60s counterculture in general, or New York as a breeding ground for fame and art.

Here’s a 5-minute YouTube video that includes Smith performing and interviews with both Smith and Mapplethorpe.

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

90514084.JPGI had to wait for weeks for my hold to drift to the top of the queue on this one. Then, halfway through its almost 600 pages, someone else recalled it, and I had to finish it in 3 days. I didn’t have a problem doing that.

I found this book every bit as good as The Corrections, which I loved, but less grim. Franzen has his characters down, as usual, but their foibles are funnier, heartbreaking less of the time, in this one. Or maybe they’re just younger, and quarter- and mid-life crises are easier to laugh at than Alzheimer’s disease at 80.

Franzen is no stranger to controversy — read about his disagreement/ongoing discussion/discomfort with Oprah Winfrey here, if you’re interested — but I care less about him as a public figure than I do as a wonderful writer. There’s a reason that he gets the attention: it’s the writing.

Franzen follows Walter, Patty, and their friend Richard from college through middle age. And he also fully fleshes out the characters of Walter and Patty’s two children, whose personalities are shaped by their reactions to their parents’ quirks. We see Patty go from a lonely, feet-of-clay college jock to an wholehearted, if misguided mother. Walter progresses from Richard’s nerdy yet caring best friend, to a committed husband and father, to a cranky, compromised man, deeply disappointed in himself and those around him. Richard drifts from a seemingly principled bohemian to an scheming opportunist, and back again. It’s absorbing to watch them progress, fail, and try again.

Here’s a sample of the cranky, self-righteous side of Walter:

Although Lalitha was a fast and somewhat reckless driver, Walter had come to prefer the anxiety of being her passenger to the judgmental anger that consumed him when he was at the wheel — the seemingly inescapable sense that, of all the drivers on the road, only he was traveling at exactly the right speed, only he was striking an appropriate balance between too punctiliously obeying traffic rules and too dangerously flouting them. In the last two years, he’d spent a lot of angry hours on the roads of West Virginia, tailgating the idiotic slowpokes and then slowing down himself to punish the rude tailgaters, ruthlessly defending the inner lane of interstates from assholes trying to pass him on the right, passing the the right himself when some fool or cellphone yakker or sanctimonious speed-limit enforcer clogged the inter lane, obsessively profiling and psychoanalyzing the drivers who refused to use their turn signals (almost always youngish men for whom the use of blinkers was apparently an affront to their masculinity, the compromised state of which was already manifest in the compensatory gigantism of their pickups and SUVs), experiencing murderous hatred of the lane-violating jonathan-franzen.jpgcoal-truck drivers who caused fatal accidents literally once a week in West Virginia, impotently blaming the corrupt state legislators who refused to lower the coal-truck weight limit below 110,000 pounds despite bounteous evidence of the havoc they wreaked, muttering “Unbelievable! Unbelievable!” when a driver ahead of him braked for a green light and then accelerated through yellow and left him stranded at red, boiling while he waited a full minute at intersections with no cross traffic visible for miles, and painfully swallowing, for Lalitha’s sake, the invective he yearned to vent when stymied by a driver refusing to make a legal right turn on red: “Hello? Get a clue? The world consists of more than just you! Other people have reality! Learn to drive! Hello!”

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year, probably in several years: I gave it to two different people for Christmas. I don’t own many books, but I think I need a copy of this so I can force it on others.

author photo: Chris Buck

Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

47210212.JPGI may have been overhyped on this one a little bit. When the late Frank McCourt reviewed the book for Amazon, he gushed: “Now I worry about Colum McCann. What is he going to do after this blockbuster groundbreaking heartbreaking symphony of a novel? No novelist writing of New York has climbed higher, dived deeper”. Add this to the fact that I absolutely loved McCann’s 1998 novel This Side of Brightness (also about New York), layer on the National Book Award for this new one, and you probably have impossible expectations to live up to. Anyway, I liked it, but didn’t love it.

McCann strings together a group of diverse characters in 1974 New York City by the very public feat accomplished by Philippe Petit: a tightrope walk between the then-new and largely vacant Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The cast includes a judge quietly grieving for a son lost in Vietnam, a 38-year-old grandmother and her daughter, both prostitutes, an Irish monk struggling with his vow of chastity, a drug-addled artist and her soulless boyfriend, and Philippe Petit himself. Like many books that use this framework, I was entranced by some characters, and wearied by others. The tightrope walk itself, though I don’t fully understand the motivation, is riveting. Here’s a trailer for the documentary about the event, Man on Wire:

The book did keep my interest, and by the end, the tying together of characters succeeded for me. If you’re interested in New York in the 70s, tightrope walking, or just enjoy watching an excellent author weave multiple plot lines into a satisfying finish, I’d recommend this book. But for me, This Side of Brightness, which worked with only two main story lines, one in the past and one in the present, was more memorable.

LA Times Book Prize, PEN Faulkner nominees announced

eggers.jpgThe LA Times announced the list of nominees for their annual Book Prizes a couple of days ago. For a complete list of nominees, including links to reviews for some titles, click here. (Here’s my brief review of Blame, one of the fiction nominees.) There’s a new award this year: the Innovators Award. The first honoree is Dave Eggers (pictured above), prolific writer, publisher and literary activist. The awards are presented each year at the LA Times Festival of Books in late April at UCLA.

The PEN/Faulkner Award nominees are The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, Homicide Survivors Picnic by Lorraine M. Lopez, War Dances by Sherman Alexie (his Flight was the Preface selection in Fall 2009), Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead and A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. I loved Sag Harbor, am about halfway through Gate at the Stairs on audiobook, and Lacuna is on my to-read list. Lopez (below) is an native Angeleno (Angelena?) with a BA from CSU Northridge, who teaches at Vanderbilt University. Her book is a collection of short stories with multicultural characters.