The winners of the 2008 National Book Awards are:
Fiction: Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen
Nonfiction: The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed
Poetry: Fire to Fire by Mark Doty
Young People’s Literature: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
I can’t say much about the other categories, not being a strong enough reader or critic of them to be able to honestly weigh in, but the fiction selection…this seems like the worst thing that could have happened to the book industry. Peter Matthiessen wrote the three components of this “novel” in the 1990’s – the first almost twenty years ago – published them separately to no great acclaim or accolades, and moved on. Now, in 2008, a version of these three novels is re-edited by Matthiessen and re-published by Random House’s Modern Library, and is somehow deemed the best work of fiction written in the United States for the current year? A travesty. I have already complained about the selected finalists – there are, of course, glaring omissions to this and, really, any list of award finalists – but at least the other four had been written sometime in the current century. I know I’m reading way too much into this, but what message is this sending, both to the reader and the writer alike? Would it be okay if Cormac McCarthy re-edited his Border Trilogy, rereleased it, and won the National Book Award again? How about Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe books? Can those be resubmitted as one huge tome? Let’s let George Lucas throw all the Star Wars films into one huge mess and see if he wins an Oscar.
I just feel “bad” for Marilynne Robinson, Aleksandar Hemon, Rachel Kushner, and Salvatore Scibona, because, although they have the amazing distinction of being National Book Award finalists, they lost to a rehashed trilogy from the previous decade that never should have made it as far as it did – I don’t care how good it is.