The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC), which honors the best writing published in English every year in six categories, announced its 2010 finalists last night at WNYC’s Greene Performance Space in NYC. In addition to being one of the only major awards that covers all English language writing — that means British, American, Canadian, etc as well as works in translation all in one pot, the NBCC Awards are the only national writing awards whose recipients are chosen directly by the critics. So as might be expected, the list includes several books that got a lot of critical attention this year, and bookworms and bloggers might be gratified to see that the NBCC finalists include at least two books — Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad — that seemed conspicuously missing from the National Book Awards shortlist. Click through for the lists of the finalists and our humble predictions.
Jennifer Egan, A Visit From the Goon Squad
Jonathan Franzen, Freedom
David Grossman, To the End of the Land
Hans Keilson, Comedy in a Minor Key
Paul Murray, Skippy Dies
Our pick: Jennifer Egan. Though Freedom was undeniably great, and Skippy Dies was incredibly charming, and it’s really amazing that Hans Keilson is 101 years old, A Visit From the Goon Squad was still hands down the best book we read all year.
Jennifer Homans, Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
Our pick: Siddhartha Mukherjee. The very idea of writing a biography for a disease gets our vote, but Mukherjee’s captivating writing, incessant intelligence and deep compassion for his subjects clinch it. The book is also timely and basically necessary — this disease is one of the most pressing facing our culture, so we’d all do well to know our enemy.
Terry Castle, The Professor and Other Writings
Clare Cavanagh, Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West
Susie Linfield, The Cruel Radiance
Ander Monson, Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir
Our pick: Elif Batuman. You could tell just from the titles we were going to pick this one, couldn’t you? Though we admit to not having read all the works on this list, we think Batuman’s clever writing is a shining example of the direction literary criticism is headed. Plus, we really dig Tolstoy.
Check out Critical Mass, the NBCC blog, for more information and the complete list of finalists in poetry, biography and autobiography.