Monday, April 2, 2012

PEN/Faulkner and Tournament of Books Winners


PEN/Faulkner Award Announced

Last Monday, The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka was announced as the winner 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award. Although billed as a “novel,” the book is very short (fewer than 40,000 words) and reads more like an extended prose poem.

Last month, I wrote about the history of the award. What I did not write about was the sometimes “strange” choices of previous winners. Last year, the award went to a collection of collections of short stories – a single volume of books which has all been published separately. At the time, some people questioned: if the volumes were not award worthy separately, why were they together?

This year’s winner did not raise that kind of question, but the selection of finalists raised some eyebrows. Excluding the winner, the finalists included two short story collections; one collection billed as “three novellas”; and only one “traditional length” novel. Ron Charles, Fiction Editor at the Washington Post, called this last fact “regrettable”, listing many great novels from 2012 which were left out, while at the same time noting that this should not be a debate between short and long fiction.

I would concur. Having read the winner and all of the finalists (with the exception of We Others), I was a bit flummoxed by the choices. Desai’s collection was beautiful, but I would have I loved to see something else honored in its place. Most of all, I did not enjoy Bank’s novel at all. For me it did not exude the emotion that other reviewers noted. I found it flat and charmless. I would have been happy to see it replaced by any of the novels that Charles mentioned.

The Tournament of Books Winner

The 2012 Tournament of Books wrapped up on Friday and the winner was Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers. Unfortunately, this was one of six competing books which I had not read, so I was unable to give it the respect that it was, apparently, due. I did predict that it would advance in the quarterfinals, but the rest of my predictions didn’t go well, with the exception of Open City making it to the championship round.

It was a very interesting competition. Each of the judges wrote persuasively in favor of their chosen book. While the exercise spotlights the fact that all literature is subjective, in round the judge was able to articulate specific reasons for liking one book better than another. If you have not read any of the match-ups, I encourage you to do so! I especially enjoyed the match-ups on March 15th, March 21st and March 27th.

The tournament has been running for eight years. In three of those years the winner has gone on to win the Pulitzer. I have a feeling that The Sisters Brothers will not be the fourth, but it’s got an outside shot. Unlike last year, where A Visit from the Good Squad seemed to be a prohibitive favorite, there doesn’t seem to be any stand out book this year.

Over the next two weeks, leading up to the Pulitzer announcement on the 16th, I will be spotlighting some of the books I think will be contenders.

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