The OF Blog: Ranking the awards for 2011 releases: Preliminary placements

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ranking the awards for 2011 releases: Preliminary placements

I have been following nearly twenty literary/genre awards given for books released in 2011, starting with last year's Man Booker Prize and continuing through the recently-announced Shirley Jackson Awards.  Although I have read some novellas and other shorter fiction, I'm going to limit this just to fiction/novel categories for better comparison points.  Mind you, there are still a few award nominees I have to read and some awards that haven't been announced yet, so this is just a prelim to something that I might expand upon in November, after the final awards for 2011 releases, the World Fantasy Awards, announces their winners.  Below are rough chronological listing of the awards:

2011 Man Booker Prize 

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending 
Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers
Carol Birch, Jamrach's Menagerie
Esi Edugyan, Half Blood Blues
Stephen Kelman, Pigeon English
A.D. Miller, Snowdrops

This was a weak shortlist, as few of the stories ever accomplished anything other than being competent at telling stories within long-established literary genres.  The Barnes short novel was well-written, but utterly forgettable in terms of an actual story or characterization.  The deWitt was my favorite from this group, but even it broke no new imaginative or prose ground.

2011 National Book Award

Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones 
Téa Obreht, The Tiger's Wife
Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision (collection)
Andrew Krivak, The Sojourn
Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic

This was a much, much stronger shortlist than the Man Booker shortlist.  Ward's story, although not my favorite, was strong, emotional, and lyrical.  Obreht's debut novel won the Orange Prize in 2011.  Pearlman won the National Book Critics Circle Award this year for her excellent collection.  Otsuka won the PEN/Faulkner Prize, and Krivak's book is up there with the others in quality, despite not making any other shortlists/winning any major awards.

2012 National Book Critics Circle Award

Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision 
Teju Cole, Open City 
Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot
Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger's Child
Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia

This too was a strong shortlist, although the Hollinghurst and, ultimately, the Eugenides left me feeling distant from the texts.  Cole's debut novel was my favorite of the five, followed by Pearlman and Spiotta.

2012 PEN/Faulkner Award

Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic 
Don DeLillo,  The Angel Esmeralda (collection)
Anita Desai, The Artist of Disappearance
Steven Millhauser, We Others (collection)
Russell Banks, Lost Memory of Skin

Interesting mix of short fiction and novels, newer voices and established names.  Of these, I liked the Otsuka the best, but DeLillo and Millhauser had strong collections.  Banks' premise was purposefully unsettling and the Desai was good but not as excellent as the others.

2012 Man Asian Prize

Kyung sook-Shin, Please Look After Mom 
Yan Lianke, Dream of Ding Village
Rahul Bhattacharya, The Sly Company of People Who Care
Jahnavi Barua, Rebirth
Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke
Banana Yoshimoto, The Lake
Jamil Ahmad, The Wandering Falcon

Toss-up for me between this and the National Book Award (and one other) for having the strongest shortlist.  I loved each and every one of these seven fictions, but there were few similarities in theme or approach between them.  Several of these are up for upcoming awards, including Lianke for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 

 No Winner


Karen Russell, Swamplandia!
David Foster Wallace, The Pale King
Denis Johnson, Train of Dreams

This was not a great list of finalists.  I liked all three, but each were flawed in some form or fashion (the Wallace was tragically left unfinished).  None of them deserved to win the award.

2012 British Science Fiction Award

Christopher Priest, The Islanders 
China Miéville, Embassytown
Adam Roberts, By Light Alone
Lavie Tidhar, Osama
Kim Lakin-Smith, Cyber Circus

This is one of the two SF/F fantasy shortlists announced so far that have not annoyed me.  Priest was a deserving winner.  Tidhar's book was very, very good as well and while I had problems with both the Miéville and the Lakin-Smith (I have yet to read Roberts' book; maybe when I have more money to import books again), it is a stronger list than the following two genre awards.

2012 Nebula Award for Best Novel

China Miéville, Embassytown
Jack McDevitt, Firebird
Jo Walton, Among Others
Genevieve Valentine, Mechanique:  A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti
N.K. Jemisin, The Kingdom of Gods
Kameron Hurley, God's War

This is a solid albeit unspectacular SF/F shortlist.  The Hurley and Walton are the two stories that I enjoyed most.  Refuse to read the McDevitt due to past experiences with his writing.  The others were okay, but not award-worthy to me.

2012 Arthur C. Clarke Award 

Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jesse Lamb
Charles Stross, Rule 34
Sherri Tepper, The Waters Rising
China Miéville, Embassytown
Drew Magary, The Postmortal/The End Specialist
Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three

Blech.  I have read four of the six shortlisted (the Rogers won't arrive until after the May 2nd ceremony; the Stross I refuse to read due to past experiences) and none of them strike me as worthy of any award shortlists, much less winning one of the few genre awards that awards a cash prize.  Easily the weakest shortlist out of the 2011 releases cycle that I have followed.

2012 Orange Prize

Esi Edugyan, Half Blood Blues
Anne Enright, The Forgotten Waltz
Cynthia Ozick, Foreign Bodies
Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles
Ann Patchett, State of Wonder
Georgina Harding, Painter of Silence

I have not finished all of these (read the Edugyan, Enright, Ozick, and Miller) and some of these are 2012 releases in the US, but it is a good, solid, but not spectacular shortlist this year.  The Enright took me until its final pages to hit me with the full force of its narrative.  The Miller was good, but there were a few longeurs.  The Ozick was unmemorable for me.  The Edugyan was OK, but I thought it was not deserving of the Booker Prize consideration that it received last year.

2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel

China Miéville, Embassytown
George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons
Jo Walton, Among Others
Mira Grant, Deadline
James S.A. Corey, Leviathan Wakes

Ugh.  The Walton was my favorite, followed by Miéville and Martin, each of which was decent but not the authors' best works.  The Grant I will not be reading due to lack of interest in following a series and the Corey was dreadful.

2012 LA Times Book Prize

Alex Shakar, Luminarium 
Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision
Joseph O'Connor, Ghost Light
Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic
Michael Ondaatje, The Cat's Table

This was a strong shortlist.  The Shakar took me a bit to warm up to, but the premise and conclusion were excellent.  Already gave my encomiums to the Pearlman and Otsuka books, but the Ondaatje was also excellent.  The O'Connor was merely very good.

2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Award

Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetery
Sjón, From the Mouth of the Whale
Diego Marani, New Finnish Grammar
Judith Hermann, Alice   
Yan Lianke, Dream of Ding Village
Aharon Appelfeld, Blooms of Darkness

Outstanding shortlist (I've read all but the Appelfeld, which will be read in the next few days).  The Marani book blew my mind and the others read are up there.  This could be the best shortlist of them all for me.

2012 Best Translated Book Award for Fiction

Jean Echenoz, Lightning
Moacyr Scliar, Kafka's Leopards
Jacques Jouet, Upstaged
Diego Marani, New Finnish Grammar  
Juan José Saer, Scars
Wiesław Myśliwski, Stone Upon Stone
Dezső Kosztolányi, Kornél Esti
Dany Laferrière, I am a Japanese Writer
Magdalena Tulli, In Red
Enrique Vila-Matas, Never Any End to Paris

I have read only five of these ten finalists, but those five (Echenoz, Scliar, Marani, Myśliwski, and Tulli) ranged from very good to outstanding in the case of Marani.  I certainly will be reading the rest of these shortlisted titles to judge their quality.

2012 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel

Michael Cisco, The Great Lover
Glen Duncan, The Last Werewolf
Donald Ray Pollock, The Devil All the Time
Sheri Holman, Witches on the Road Tonight
S.P. Miskowski, Knock Knock
Reggie Oliver, The Dracula Papers

Having read all but the Oliver, I think I can safely say that this year's Shirley Jackson novel finalists are the strongest SF/F genre shortlist that I've read.  The breadth and depth of these finalists is refreshing after the conservatism I detected in the Clarke and Hugo nominees.

In addition, I have read all or am in the process of reading the winning novels for these awards:

2012 James Tiptree, Jr. Award

Andrea Hairston, Redwood and Wildfire - excellent novel.  Should have been on some of the other SF/F shortlists.

2012 Bram Stoker Award

Joe McKinney, Flesh Eaters - decent but not great zombie apocalypse-type horror novel.

2012 Edgar Award

Mo Hayder, Gone - I'm currently 2/3 into this crime/thriller novel.  Better than expected, but not excellent so far.  But it is better than the other finalists I've read:

Keigo Higashino, The Devotion of Suspect X
Philip Kerr, Field Gray

I'll update my rankings later in the year, after other awards are released, but if I had to rank the top three, it would go:

1.  Independent Foreign Fiction Award
2.  National Book Award
3.  National Book Critics Circle Award
4.  Man Asian Prize
5.  PEN/Faulkner

There is very little space between these five.  For the bottom three, I would go:

1.  Arthur C. Clarke Award
2.  Hugo Award
3.  Man Booker Prize

The rest is closer to the first group of five than to the bottom three.  If you've read some or all of these shortlists, what are your thoughts on them individually?


Jared said...

No Kitschies? We'd love to know what you thought...

Lsrry said...

Ha! I hadn't thought about those, but I might edit that in later today. I have a test to prepare for now, though.

Jared said...

I'll do it for you, just email me the login. [BESTEST AWARD EVER...]

Lsrry said...

Ha! I was a bit...occupied yesterday afternoon after the test. Let me wake up a bit first.

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