Los Angeles Times Book Prizes nominations announced

The Blazing World   department-of-speculation  Boy, Snow, Bird  A Girl is a Half-Formed ThingCitizen   LA Times Festival of Books 2015

The 35th Los Angeles Times Book Prizes nominees were announced today, with five finalists each in 10 categories. T.C. Boyle will receive the Robert Kirsch Lifetime Achievement Award for his 30-year career as a novelist and short story writer, as well as founder of the creative writing program at USC, where he has taught since the late 1970s.

Three of the five nominees in the Fiction category are women whose novels received critical acclaim in 2014: Siri Hustvedt for The Blazing World, Jenny Offill for The Department of Speculation, and Helen Oyeyemi for Boy, Snow. Bird. [The links are to my reviews.] (The other nominees are the legendary Donald Antrim for The Emerald Light in the Air: Stories and Jesse Ball for Silence Once Begun.)

Women poets took the same number of slots in the First Fiction and Poetry categories.

In First Fiction, Diane Cook for Man v. Nature: Stories, Valerie Luiselli for Faces in the Crowd, and Eimear McBride for A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (which won the 2014 Booker Prize). (The other nominees are John Darnielle for Wolf in White Van and David James Poissant for The Heaven of Animals: Stories.)

In Poetry the nominees are Gillian Conoley for Peace, Katie Ford for Blood Lyrics: Poems, and Claudia Rankine for Citizen: An American Lyric. (The other nominees are Peter Gizzi for In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems, 1987-2011 and Fred Moten for The Feel Trio.)

Two small presses from Minneapolis elbowed in on the big publishing houses in the nominations. Graywolf Press published Rankine’s Citizen and Ford’s Blood Lyrics: Poems. Coffee House Press published A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing and Faces in the Crowd. Graywolf is also the publisher of Eula Biss’s On Immunity: An Inoculation, a blend of investigative medical journalism and essay (which Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently selected for his Year of Books reading project), and Leslie Jamison’s rapturously reviewed essay collection, The Empathy Exams (2013). Graywolf authors Eula Biss, Claudia Rankine, and Vikram Chandra (Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty) are finalists in this year’s National Book Critics Circle Awards (to be announced on March 12.

The L.A. Times Book Prizes will be announced at the Times’ 20th Festival of Books (to be held on the USC campus) on Saturday, April 18.


My bookish bucket list: 10 literary longings

Today’s “Top Ten Tuesday” topic (wow, five t-words in a row!) for bloggers is to reveal your bookish bucket list. Thanks to Jamie at The Broke and the Bookish for the TTT idea and this particular topic, which was fun to think and write about while I’m home under the weather.

1. Visit the UK’s literary sites

I’m long overdue for my first visit to the UK. I need to make a pilgrimage to all the places I’ve read about that are so much a part of me (not just my reading history). Stratford-on-Avon, Gad’s Hill (Rochester), Oxford, Cambridge, Dorset, Hertfordshire, Watership Down :-), York, the Yorkshire Dales, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and, of course, Westminster Abbey; the list is nearly endless. I need to walk in the footsteps of the greats, writers and characters both.

2. Read the complete works of Charles Dickens.

I’ve read and loved a few of Dickens’ novels, but I’d really like to read them all, in chronological order, so I can observe his development from a comic picaresque writer to arguably the greatest social novelist ever. I need to read Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and Our Mutual Friend.

3. Read the works of the Russian masters.

I’m sadly lacking in my knowledge of the Russian classics. I want to read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov (at the very least), and I am actually looking forward to reading the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Add Gogol (I loved the Penguin collection of stories and The Government Inspector), Turgenev, Pushkin, Solzhenitsyn, and the mighty Chekhov, and I’ve got quite an impressive reading list. I might need to make this a year-long project. 2015?

4. Read some of the notorious “difficult” books.

I’d like to be able to say I’ve read James Joyce’s Ulysses and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (at least Swann’s Way, the first of the seven volumes). I’d also really like to be able to say I understood and enjoyed these, and other similar, books.

5. Organize a dinner party with my favorite writers (the living ones, of course).

I think it would be great to organize a long evening of good food, wine, and conversation with 12 writers who are also good conversationalists and good company. Off the top of my head, my guest list would likely include Margaret Atwood, Rilla Askew, T.C. Boyle, Bill Bryson, Nathan Englander, Ben Fountain, Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Munro, Ann Patchett, Ron Rash, Donna Tartt, and Tim Winton. Can you imagine? It would be even better than “My Dinner with Andre. (I know I’m forgetting several other writers I’d love to invite, but you get the drift.)

6. Visit Paris and have my own “Midnight in Paris” experience.

Like Owen Wilson’s character in “Midnight in Paris,” I’d love to explore literary Paris with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, and the other American expats as my guides. If they’ve unavailable to me, I’ll read some of the great French writers while I enjoy the City of Lights.

7. Visit several Australian cities with Aussie writers as my literary and cultural tour guides.

Let’s see, who would best represent each city? Peter Carey or Thomas Keneally in Sydney, Kate Grenville for the central and northern New South Wales coast, Peter Temple in Melbourne and the southeast Victorian coast, Hannah Kent in Adelaide, Tim Winton in Perth and the southwest coast down to his home town of Albany, and either Keneally or Midnight Oil drummer and writer Rob Hirst for the Outback.

8. Rent a quiet cottage by the sea and read the complete works of William Shakespeare.

While I’ve read about a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays, they are the usual suspects. I’d like to read all 37 of his plays, his two long narrative poems, and all of his sonnets. The question is where I should go for this amazing experience in the life of the mind. Should it be the coast of England to make it more authentic, the coast of Italy (where several plays are set), or just anywhere quiet enough to eliminate distractions so I can immerse myself in the works of the Bard? What do YOU suggest?

9. Write a novel.

Like most avid readers, I dream of being a writer, too. I’ve written journalism and non-fiction since my high school days, but fiction has never come naturally to me (unlike to my 17-year-old son, who has stories pouring out of him and who can already write fiction well). Now that I’ve lived over half a century, perhaps my novel’s long gestation period is over and it will come to me in a vision. Speak to me, O Muse, of the long-suffering reader who wished to be a writer.

10. Have my book blog become a profitable enterprise so I can make a living from my blogging and portrait photography hobbies.

Well, it’s a bucket list. It doesn’t have to be realistic. Sometimes dreams do come true.