Looking back through the National Book Award’s excellent project chronicling its 60 year history in blog posts (go read a few of them, if you haven’t already), it occurred to me that we’re in the midst of a year every bit as historic as any of the previous 60 years. What am I talking about? Well, take for example 1962. In 1962, The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy won the National Book Award. Finalists included, among others, JD Salinger for Franny and Zooey, Richard Yates for Revolutionary Road, and Joseph Heller for Catch-22, as well as John Williams, William Maxwell, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Hortense Calisher and more. That’s an impressive year for books. Other big years included 1988 (Paris Trout won the award over Libra and Wheat That Springeth Green) and 1953 (Invisible Man beat out The Old Man and The Sea and East of Eden, among others). In recent years, 2001 was a big year, with The Corrections beating out Dan Chaon’s Among the Missing, Susan Straight’s Highwire Moon, Louise Erdrich’s The Last Report on the Miracle at Little No Horse and Jennifer Egan’s Look at Me (as well as Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which wasn’t a finalist but won the Pulitzer).
But 2009 could be shaping up to be the best year yet. (And a big hat-tip to Max at the Millions, who put together two posts about how incredible this year’s books are.) Let’s look at where we are so far for the year in fiction (and I’m making note of these books because they are either particularly strong or noteworthy. It’s entirely possible there are a bunch that I’m missing. In which case, remind me below):
- Dan Chaon, Await Your Reply
- Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs
- Yiyun Li, The Vagrants
- Wells Tower, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
- E.L. Doctorow, Homer & Langley
- Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice
- Roberto Bolano, The Skating Rink
- Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin
- Colm Toibin, Brooklyn
- Ron Currie Jr, Everything Matters!
- Mary Gaitskill, Don’t Cry
And still to come:
- James Ellroy, Blood’s a Rover
- Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City
- Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood
- Richard Powers, Generosity: An Enchancement
- AS Byatt, The Children’s Book (An upcoming Vroman’s event!)
- Philip Roth, The Humbling
That’s an incredible mix of legends (Moore, Roth, Atwood, Byatt, Pynchon, etc.) and relative newcomers (Tower, Li) to find in one year. While it’s nearly impossible to predict which books will be read in 20 or 30 or 50 years, it certainly seems likely that we’ll see a few of this year’s books survive.
What say you, fair readers? Which books from this year will live on and which will not? And am I crazy to think this is the strongest year for books since at least 2001 and possibly ever?