Publishing employees are overworked, underpaid, and often pretty cynical about the future of the industry—I used to be one. But one night a year, at the National Book Awards, everyone gets dressed up, gets drunk, and forgets about sales projections and proofs and bosses pestering you about hashtags. Tonight is that night.
So who will win the coveted fiction and nonfiction awards?
In the fiction category, two books lead the pack: Hanya Yanagihara’s critically-divisive A Little Life and Lauren Groff’s literally-divisive Fates and Furies,which looks at a marriage from the perspective of the husband and the wife. The short story collections Refund (the weakest nominee, by Karen E. Bender) and Fortune Smiles (a cohesive and moving collection that is still oddly indistinct—Johnson is good at parroting Saunders and Carver but rarely dives into unique territory) are also nominated, alongside Angela Flournoy’s sprawling and brilliant multigenerational debut The Turner House (the best of the nominees). The three are unlikely to win, however: the winning book last year was a debut short story collection, Phil Klay’s Redeployment, and the NBA committee has been trying to gear the prize toward big, talked about books like A Little Life and Fates and Furies. Either could win, but I think A Little Life will triumph.
In the nonfiction category, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between The World And Me is as close to a lock as the National Book Awards has had in years. It will almost certainly win. Sally Mann’s Hold Still is the best dark horse contender, though I think Tracy K. Smith’s Ordinary Light has a shot. Carla Power’s If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and A Journey to the Heart of the Quran and Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus are also nominated.
The awards start at 7:40 tonight and are hosted by Andy Borowitz for reasons I don’t quite understand. We’ll be covering them here, so stay tuned.