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All Last Month News & Analysis

Posted Thursday, October 11, 2007
Newcomers and Old Hands Nominated for Book Prizes


God and government were among the themes explored by the nonfiction finalists for the National Book Awards, which were announced on Wednesday. Skip to next paragraph Related 'Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA,' by Tim Weiner: Counter Intelligence (July 22, 2007) 'God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,' by Christopher Hitchens: In God, Distrust (May 13, 2007) 'Brother, I'm Dying,' by Edwidge Danticat: Haitian Fathers (September 9, 2007) 'Brother, I’m Dying,' by Edwidge Danticat: A Haitian Tragedy: Brothers Yearn in Vain (September 4, 2007) 'Ralph Ellison: A Biography,' by Arnold Rampersad: Visible Man (May 20, 2007) 'Varieties of Disturbance: Stories,' by Lydia Davis: Just So Stories (May 27, 2007) 'Tree of Smoke,' by Denis Johnson: The Revelator (September 2, 2007)

“God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” a vigorous attack on religion by Christopher Hitchens, and “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the C.I.A.,” by Tim Weiner, a reporter for The New York Times, both appeared on best-seller lists this year. A from-the-ground-up look at the founding of the United States, “Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution” by Woody Holton, joined those two finalists, as did Edwidge Danticat’s wrenching memoir of her family in Haiti, “Brother, I’m Dying,” and Arnold Rampersad’s “Ralph Ellison: A Biography.”

The awards, given annually by the National Book Foundation, are inevitably the subject of second-guessing and gossip, and are avidly followed by the publishing industry because of their ability to increase sales. The finalists were announced by the writer Camille Paglia at the Library Company in Philadelphia.

While the nonfiction category was filled with veteran authors, the fiction finalists included first-time novelists as well as familiar storytellers. The novices — Mischa Berlinski for “Fieldwork,” about a journalist living in Thailand, and Joshua Ferris for “Then We Came to the End,” a comic story about office life — were joined by Lydia Davis for her seventh collection of short stories, “Varieties of Disturbance”; Denis Johnson for “Tree of Smoke,” a tale of espionage in Vietnam; and Jim Shepard for “Like You’d Understand, Anyway,” a group of stories told in the first person.

As publisher of 5 of the 10 fiction and nonfiction titles, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (and its imprint Hill & Wang) dominated the list this year.

Among the established poets nominated, the best known is probably Robert Hass, a former poet laureate of the United States and a MacArthur fellow. His collection, “Time and Materials,” is up against Linda Gregerson’s “Magnetic North,” David Kirby’s “The House on Boulevard St.,” Stanley Plumly’s “Old Heart” and Ellen Bryant Voigt’s “Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006.”

Joan Didion, who won the 2005 nonfiction award for “The Year of Magical Thinking,” and Terry Gross, the host and executive producer of “Fresh Air” on National Public Radio, will each receive the foundation’s 2007 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters on Nov. 14, when the winners are announced. Ms. Gross’s show is often credited for lifting the sales of featured books.

The finalists for young people’s literature include two first-time novelists: M. Sindy Felin for “Touching Snow,” about a girl coming of age in suburbia, and Sara Zarr for “Story of a Girl,” about a teenager who is branded as promiscuous. Also nominated are “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” which Sherman Alexie based on his own boyhood experiences; Kathleen Duey’s first part of a trilogy, “Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic, Book One”; and “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” about an orphan and thief who lives in a Paris train station, by Brian Selznick, who has won a Caldecott Honor for his work as an illustrator.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, TheArts, of Thursday, October 11, 2007.

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