Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Award-Winning Titles in CQL’s Collections

--by CQL Staff

The literary world announces myriad award-winning books annually – the best of the best in a wide variety of categories. And, to the best of our ability (as budget allows), the Copper Queen Library adds these titles to our collections for patrons’ reading pleasure.

The most recent awards, the 2011 Pulitzer Prizes, announced this past Monday (April 18), included:

Fiction: Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad – The novel begins in New York with kleptomaniac Sasha and her boss, rising music producer Bennie Salazar, before flashing back, with Bennie, to the glory days of Bay Area punk rock, and eventually forward, with Sasha, to a settled life. Egan's overarching concerns are about how rebellion ages, influence corrupts, habits turn to addictions, and lifelong friendships fluctuate and turn. Or as one character asks, “How did I go from being a rock star to being a fat f*** no one cares about?” Egan answers the question elegantly, though not straight on, as this powerful novel chronicles how and why we change, even as the song stays the same.

General Nonfiction: Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer - "In 2010, about six hundred thousand Americans, and more than 7 million humans around the world, will die of cancer." With this sobering statistic, physician and researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee begins his comprehensive and eloquent "biography" of one of the most virulent diseases of our time. An exhaustive account of cancer's origins, Mukherjee illustrates how modern treatments – multi-pronged chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, as well as preventative care – came into existence thanks to a century's worth of research, trials, and small, essential breakthroughs around the globe. While the book is rich with the science and history behind the fight against cancer, it is also a meditation on illness, medical ethics, and the complex, intertwining lives of doctors and patients. Mukherjee's profound compassion – for cancer patients, their families, as well as the oncologists who, all too often, can offer little hope – makes this book a very human history of an elusive and complicated disease.

Biography: Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life - In his introduction, veteran biographer Chernow is clear about his goals. Using the recent "explosion of research," he wants to render George Washington "real" and "credible," to replace "frosty respect" with "visceral appreciation." In many respects, Chernow succeeds. He gives us a Washington who starts with limited education and means and, through a remarkable combination of timely deaths, an incredible capacity for hard work, a shrewd marriage, astonishing physical hardiness and courage, a propensity for land speculation, and a gift for finding influential patrons, transforms himself into a soldier, well-to-do planter, local official, and eventually the only real choice to command the Continental army, preside over the Constitutional Convention, and serve as the first president. Chernow makes familiar scenes fresh (like the crossing of the Delaware) and expertly brings the provisional revolutionary and early Republican eras to life. (on order)

History: Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery - Do we need yet another book on Lincoln? ... Well, yes, we do — if the book is by so richly informed a commentator as Eric Foner, who tackles what would seem to be an obvious topic, Lincoln and slavery, and manages to cast new light on it. Because of his broad-ranging knowledge of the 19th century, Foner is able to provide the most thorough and judicious account of Lincoln's attitudes toward slavery that we have. While many thousands of books deal with Lincoln and slavery, Foner’s is the definitive account of this crucial subject, illuminating in a highly original and profound way the interactions of race, slavery, public opinion, politics, and Lincoln's own character that led to the wholly improbable uncompensated emancipation of some four million slaves. Even seasoned historians will acquire fresh and new perspectives from reading this. (on order)

Poetry: Kay Ryan, The Best of It: New and Selected Poems - This ample but representative collection should attract new readers curious about the work of America’s current poet laureate and should also satisfy those familiar with Ryan’s conversational but tightly wrought poems. Her strength lies in creating short-lined poems that slide past the reader like notes from a journal but that, unlike many such efforts, are not merely self-indulgent anecdotes or predictable bromides. Rather, readers find surprise arising from each incident or pondering, creating an effect like that of the classical Zen haiku that starts out commonplace and rises to philosophical heights. Ryan’s observation of a spider weaving begins with a comment on how “from other / angles the / fibers look / fragile,” then embeds itself in the spider’s own viewpoint, from which those fibers are “coarse ropes” requiring “heavy work” to get in place in the web. The point of this close reading of insect life reveals itself in the last lines: “It / isn’t ever / delicate / to live.” (on order)

The 2010 National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced on March 10, 2011, with Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad taking home the prize for fiction (see above). Among the other winners:

Nonfiction: Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns - Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man's turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by "the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn't operate in his own home town." Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the "great migration," the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an "uncertain existence" in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done

Biography: Sarah Bakewell, How to Live - In a wide-ranging intellectual career, Michel de Montaigne found no knowledge so hard to acquire as the knowledge of how to live this life well. By casting her biography of the writer as 20 chapters, each focused on a different answer to the question How to live? Flexible and curious, this was a mind at home contemplating the morality of cannibals, the meaning of his own near-death experience, and the puzzlingly human behavior of animals. And though Montaigne has identified his own personality as his overarching topic, Bakewell marvels at the way Montaigne’s prose has enchanted diverse readers — Hazlitt and Sterne, Woolf and Gide — with their own reflections.

Autobiography: Darin Strauss, Half a Life - The author, in high school, is driving his father's car when a classmate swerves in front of him on her bike. He knows there is nothing he could have done, and the police confirm it (insurers call it a “no fault fatality”). But it is hard for people in his hometown to cope with the idea that this was just a senseless, meaningless accident – no one likes to think that our lives are out of our control. The girl's mother tells Darin that he is living for two now, and that he has to do everything twice as well now, placing a heavy burden on him. But perhaps the heaviest toll is taken by Darin's inability to get close to anyone he meets after the accident: "My accident was the deepest part of my life and the second deepest was hiding it....“

The 2010 Man Booker Prize was awarded to Howard Jacobson for his eleventh novel, The Finkler Question, a deeply funny exploration of identity, shame, and friendship.

The rest of the shortlist included:
Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America - Two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey imagines the experiences of Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French political philosopher and author of Democracy in America. Carey brings de Tocqueville to life through the fictionalized character of Olivier de Garmont, a coddled and conceited French aristocrat who can only begin to grasp how the other half lives when forced to travel to the New World with John "Parrot" Larrit, a jaded survivor of lifelong hardship. Though their relationship begins in mutual hatred, it evolves into affectionate comradeship as they experience the alien social and cultural milieus of the New World.

Emma Donoghue, Room - In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. But Jack is different in a big way--he has lived his entire life in a single room, sharing the tiny space with only his mother and an unnerving nighttime visitor known as Old Nick. For Jack, Room is the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to craft a normal life for her son. When their insular world suddenly expands beyond the confines of their four walls, the consequences are piercing and extraordinary. Despite its profoundly disturbing premise, Donoghue's Room is rife with moments of hope and beauty and the dogged determination to live, even in the most desolate circumstances. A stunning and original novel of survival in captivity, readers who enter Room will leave staggered, as though, like Jack, they are seeing the world for the very first time.

Damon Galgut, In a Strange Room - In South African writer Damon Galgut's latest novel, the narrator (also named Damon) describes three different journeys he took as a younger man, one where he filled the role of the follower, one the lover, and one the guardian. Although each trip is distinct, involving different locations (Greece, Africa, and India), travel companions, and challenges, certain themes resurface throughout Damon's wanderings, including his unceasing drive to keep moving and his inability to form lasting relationships. Damon's changing character – which ranges from a powerless follower to an assertive protector, depending on the varying circumstances he confronts – suggests that a large part of human identity derives from external influences rather than from an inherent inner quality. Locating a solid core within this impermanence is what compels Damon to undertake his quests and what creates this novel's momentum.

Andrea Levy, The Long Song - British writer of Jamaican descent, Levy draws upon history to recall the island's slave rebellion of 1832. The unreliable narrator pretends to be telling the story of a woman called July, born as the result of a rape of a field slave, but it soon becomes obvious that the narrator is July herself. Taken as a house slave when she's eight years old, July is later seduced by the pretentiously moralistic English overseer after he marries the plantation's mistress; his clergyman father has assured him that a married man might do as he pleases. Related in July's lilting patois, the narrative encompasses scenes of shocking brutality and mass carnage, but also humor, sometimes verging on farce. Levy's satiric eye registers the venomous racism of the white characters and is equally candid in relating the degrees of social snobbery around skin color among the blacks themselves, July included. Slavery destroys the humanity of everyone is Levy's subtext, while the cliffhanger ending suggests (one hopes) a sequel.

Tom McCarthy, C - The enigmatic title signifies (for starters) Serge Carrefax, who grows up in early 1900s England on the grounds of the Versoie House, where his inventor-father Simeon runs a school for the deaf, using his pupils to test the copper-wire telegraphs and radio gizmos that are his obsession. There, Serge and his ill-fated sister, Sophie, enact strange experiments in chemistry and star in a school pageant depicting Ceres's journey to the underworld. More C-words follow, as an older, haunted Serge travels to a Bavarian sanitarium in search of the healing chemical cysteine and, following his enrollment in the 104th Airborne Squadron, enjoys flying reconnaissance while high on cocaine. The young century unfurls, bringing with it spiritualists, Egyptian espionage, and a fateful tryst in an ancient tomb, where Serge will at last discover the delicate wavelengths that connect him to the historical signals for which he is an ideal receiver. Each chapter of McCarthy's tour de force is a cryptic, ornate puzzle box, rich with correspondences and emphatically detailed digressions.

Nobel Prize - Mario Vargas Llosa, acclaimed author and political activist, won the Nobel Prize for Literature on October 7. He is the first South American writer to win since Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1982. Works in the library's collection include: Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, The Bad Girl, Captain Pantoja and the Special Service, Conversation in the Cathedral, Death in the Andes, The Feast of the Goat, The Green House, In Praise of the Stepmother, The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, The Storyteller, The War of the End of the World, and Who killed Palomino Molero?

2010 Hugo Award Winners (World Science Fiction Society) - Two authors shared the Best Novel award: China Mieville and Paolo Bacigalupi.

China Mieville, The City and the City - Better known for New Weird fantasies (Perdido Street Station, etc.), bestseller Miéville offers an outstanding take on police procedurals with this barely speculative novel. Twin southern European cities Beszel and Ul Qoma coexist in the same physical location, separated by their citizens' determination to see only one city at a time. Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad roams through the intertwined but separate cultures as he investigates the murder of Mahalia Geary, who believed that a third city, Orciny, hides in the blind spots between Beszel and Ul Qoma. As Mahalia's friends disappear and revolution brews, Tyador is forced to consider the idea that someone in unseen Orciny is manipulating the other cities. Through this exaggerated metaphor of segregation, Miéville skillfully examines the illusions people embrace to preserve their preferred social realities.

Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl (which also won this year's Nebula Award) - Noted short story writer Bacigalupi (Pump Six and Other Stories) proves equally adept at novel length in this grim but beautifully written tale of Bangkok struggling for survival in a post-oil era of rising sea levels and out-of-control mutation. Capt. Jaidee Rojjanasukchai of the Thai Environment Ministry fights desperately to protect his beloved nation from foreign influences. Factory manager Anderson Lake covertly searches for new and useful mutations for a hated Western agribusiness. Aging Chinese immigrant Tan Hock Seng lives by his wits while looking for one last score. Emiko, the titular despised but impossibly seductive product of Japanese genetic engineering, works in a brothel until she accidentally triggers a civil war. This complex, literate and intensely felt tale recalls both William Gibson and Ian McDonald at their very best and is clearly one of the finest science fiction novels of the year.

2010 Edgar Award Winners (Mystery Writers of America)

Best Novel: John Hart, The Last Child - A year after 12-year-old Alyssa Merrimon disappeared on her way home from the library in an unnamed rural North Carolina town, her twin brother, Johnny, continues to search the town, street by street, even visiting the homes of known sex offenders. Detective Clyde Hunt, the lead cop on Alyssa's case, keeps a watchful eye on Johnny and his mother, who has deteriorated since Alyssa's abduction and her husband's departure soon afterward. When a second girl is snatched, Johnny is even more determined to find his sister, convinced that the perpetrator is the same person who took Alyssa. But what he unearths is more sinister than anyone imagined, sending shock waves through the community and putting Johnny's own life in danger.

Best First Novel: Stefanie Pintoff, In the Shadow of Gotham - The wreck of the steamship General Slocum in 1904 cost Detective Simon Ziele of the New York City police both his fiancée and the full use of his right arm. In response to those losses, Ziele has abandoned big-city policing for the quiet dullness of Dobson, a town in Westchester County, but a brutal murder interrupts his retreat from the world. Someone slashes and bludgeons to death Sarah Wingate, a Columbia mathematics graduate student whose brilliance evoked jealousy in her peers, in her home under circumstances that resemble the notorious murders of Lizzie Borden's parents. Ziele's investigation is soon co-opted by Alistair Sinclair, a student of criminology who's convinced he knows the culprit's identity. The period detail, characterizations and plotting are all top-notch, and Ziele has enough depth to carry a series. (on order)