Thursday, November 11, 2004

Caryn James grumbles that this year's National Book Award short list uses "a short-story aesthetic." Fiction finalists-- Florida by Christine Schutt, Madeleine Is Sleeping by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, The News From Paraguay by Lily Tuck, Our Kind by Kate Walbert and Ideas of Heaven by Joan Silber-- also are short on humor, she maintains. Philip Roth and Chang-rae Lee, where are they on a list that appears to "strong-arm readers' taste"?

I'm sorry, I just can get exercised over the sameness, the femaleness, the obscurity of this year's finalists as so many have this fall. Big and sprawling has won before, as has Philip Roth, as have collections of short stories. I read the Walbert in a tear back in June when I should have been packing for Europe primarily because of its use of a first personal plural narrator (and I recall an evident but sly humor in the work) and because I'd enjoyed The Gardens of Kyoto. I read the Silber on Saturday primarily because it was nominated for the NBA, but I'll read other Silbers now because I enjoyed Ideas of Heaven.

Neither of these books, though, will end up on my own personal year's best list, but that's okay. What's more boring than a list that conforms to others' lists, to others' expectations?

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