Saturday, March 10, 2012

NBCC and PEN/Hemingway Winners & Thoughts on the Pulitzer Prize


As I mentioned in my post from Thursday morning, the National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced that evening. Still, rather than report the results yesterday, I chose to write about the “bigger news” of the week: the pending Justice Department investigation into e-book pricing. If you haven’t read about that yet, you should. It’s one of the biggest and most interesting things going on in the industry right now. 

As for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the award in fiction went to Edith Pearlman for her short story collection, Binocular Vision. As I mentioned in the post linked above, Pearlman was also a National Book Award finalist and is now a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. At age 76, she has been writing for over 40 years, and while far from a “household name,” she has been a favorite among fellow writers, as well as reviewers, for years.

With this NBCC win, Pearlman becomes a heavy favorite to win the Pulitzer Prize. Earlier this year I found a very interesting site. The site is ostensibly for book collectors who want to own first editions of Pulitzer Prize winning books prior to the announcement (when such editions demand a premium), but there are discussions about books in general, which if not always "deep," are often interesting. More importantly, one of the active members has assembled a weighted statistical model that attempts to predict the Pulitzer, based on historical trends. While is not truly possible to predict a judged award statistically, this model has had some amazing success in recent years. Last year, A Visit from the Goon Squad, was the most highly ranked book in the model and went on to win the Pulitzer. In 2008, The Brief and Wondrous Lifeof Oscar Wao was the third ranked book and went on to win. As I mentioned in my post on background information on the NBCC, simply being a finalist (not necessarily a winner) is the single best predictor of the Pulitzer, with 23 past NBCC winners going on to win the Pulitzer. Although I have not yet read Binocular Vision, but I have a suspicion that it may not win.

On the other hand…

Prior to my post on Thursday, I had not noticed that the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award had been announced. This award is given to first books of fiction, whether novels or collections of short stories. The winner was my pick for the NBCC award, Teju Cole’s Open City. I am very happy to see Cole honored. Although, I enjoyed other first novels more last year – including The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (who was given an honorable mention for the award) and The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht – Cole’s novel is probably technically superior. Based on the statistical model mentioned above, it also raises his chances of winning the Pulitzer, either this year or in the future. In 2000, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, won the PEN/Hemingway and then went on to win the Pulitzer. More interestingly, at least two writers – Marianne Robinson and Edward P. Jones – won the PEN/Hemingway and then won the Pulitzer for subsequent books. I think that Open City had a chance at winning the Pulitzer, but if it doesn’t keep an eye on Cole’s future work. He is definitely a writer to watch.

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