The OF Blog: Personal ranking of the 2011 National Book Award finalists (and now the actual winners)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Personal ranking of the 2011 National Book Award finalists (and now the actual winners)

I know the awards banquet is taking place now and that shortly all of the winners will be announced (I'll post them after I finish writing the reviews for Manning Marable's Malcolm X:  A Life of Reinvention and Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve), but I thought I'd post in list form my ranking of the books in each of the four categories.  For most of these, it's very difficult to identify a clear winner; others are more clear-cut.  On the whole, this was a very good group, on par with last year's shortlist for fiction and non-fiction at least and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend about 75-90% of these books to readers here.  But enough of the chatter, here's how I felt about them:

Edit:  I'm going to put an asterisk by the books that won the award in each category.


1.  Téa Obreht, The Tiger's Wife  
2.  Andrew Krivak, The Sojourn
3.  Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision
4.  Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic
5.  * Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones

The difference between #1 and #5 for me is that of a fingernail's thickness.  Very good group of finalists.  


1.  * Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve:  How the World Became Modern
2.  Manning Marable, Malcolm X:  A Life of Reinvention
3.  Lauren Redniss, Radioactive:  Marie and Pierre Curie:  A Tale of Love and Fallout
4.  Mary Gabriel, Love and Capital:  Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution
5.  Deborah Baker, The Convert

There is some bias here, I'll admit, as the rankings reflect the authors' academic standing, but the errors in presentation became more and more evident as I progressed down through the names.


1.  Yusef Komunyakaa, The Chameleon Couch
2.  Bruce Smith, Devotions
3.  Carl Phillips, Double Shadow
4.  Adrienne Rich, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve
5.  * Nikky Finney, Head Off & Split

Sliver of difference on the first three, then a slight drop to Rich and a further one to Finney in terms of my preferences when reading their collections, all of which contain at least moments of power to them.

Young People's Literature:

1.  * Thanhha Lai, Inside Out and Back Again
2.  Debby Dahl Edwardson, My Name is Not Easy
3.  Gary D. Schmidt, Okay for Now
4.  Albert Marrin, Flesh & Blood So Cheap:  The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy
5.  Franny Billingsley, Chime

Another strong group, with the top 3 being a step above the other two.  Lai and Edwardson's books are at least on the level of the Fiction finalists in terms of how I received them and how they were written.

Again, I'll post the winners after I have finished writing the last two reviews tonight.  Now to go see if they are online yet, as the banquet began an hour ago. 

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