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Posts in "Fiction" category

National Book Award Fiction Nominees

This morning the National Book Award Nominees were announced. These are the contenders in fiction:

  • Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America (Alfred A. Knopf)
  • Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule (McPherson & Co.)
  • Nicole Krauss, Great House (W.W. Norton & Co.)
  • Lionel Shriver, So Much for That (HarperCollinsPublishers)
  • Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel (Coffee House Press)

Many congrats to Coffee House Press to have a horse in the running. Yamashita is a Californian author, born in Oakland, who teaches at UC Santa Cruz, and it's always lovely to see local authors up for the prize. Peter Carey and Nicole Krauss are reliable choices.

Of course, it's always more significant who is left off the list than who made it — Jacket Copy points out that the big omission was Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. But clearly being a bestselling author, an author chosen by Oprah and splashed on the cover of TIME, doesn't guaruntee admittance to one of the most coveted shortlists of American literary prizes. And it shouldn't. A good motivation for prizes, especially when creating shortlists, is to promote lesser-known titles, rather than heaping more praise upon the over-publicized.

The NY Times adds that this shortlist includes the largest number of women ever nominated — 13 out of 20. The Fiction nominees hold up that demographic tilt, with 4 out of the 5 being women.

The Atlantic Renews Commitment to Short Stories

Atlantic Monthly April 2010  The Atlantic is going to start publishing fiction again. So no more of those newstand-only summer fiction issues (which were good, though, especially the 2008 one that highlighted emerging authors). Instead, a supplement will accompany the May issue that will include half a dozen short stories and — obligatory for all American magazines, for every single issue — an essay from the ubiquitous Joyce Carol Oates.

Here's an excerpt from the full note in the April issue:

"But as longtime, generously loyal readers know, for the past five years we have published fiction once a year in a special newstand issue, rather than in any of our 10 subscriber issues. During what has been widely noted to be a 'challenging' (read: harrowing) business environment for publishing, this has been a necessary compromise. But none of us has been particularly happy with it, and we have been searching for ways to once again place great fiction in front of all our readers."

The vote of confidence is encouraging. As they say later on in the editor's note: "We are seeing renewed interest in the short story."

Strangely, editor James Bennet doesn't mention what will happen with the Kindle model, which sells e-stories for $3.99. Will they continue with supplements, the Kindle model AND a summer fiction issue? It seems like they're experimenting with all forms of distribution and will stick to whatever works.

I actually respect this — it seems forward thinking. Even if the Atlantic editors don't know the course, they're willing to try out a few roads to find a viable model.

Chess Puzzles, Nabakov, and the “Splendid Insincerity” of Fiction

“Chess problems demand from the composer the same virtues that characterize all worthwile art: originality, invention, conciseness, harmony, complexity, and splendid insincerity.” – Vladimir Nabokov

I’ve been playing chess seriously for more than a decade, since my graduate school days in New York City, when I first lost money to the hustlers in Washington Square Park, then won money, then was refused games.

I play over-the-board (OTB) infrequently, but online chess often. It seems chess is so dissimilar to fiction, because one deals with cold, hard, implacable logic and the other with the vicissitudes of human emotion, but I find more than a few similarities.

Nabokov, who wrote an entire novel centered around chess (“The Defense”), highlights the creativity required to create a chess puzzle, comparing it to art. It’s not only chess puzzles, though. Any beautiful and brilliant chess game exhibits “originality, invention, conciseness, harmony, complexity.” Puzzles just do it in capsule form. The really surprising part of the Nabokov quote, though, is the end, the “splendid insincerity.”

If insincerity is like trickery, then it’s easy to see the comparison: The puzzle’s obvious choice is often the wrong one, which is why so many puzzles involve sacrifices (Queen Sacks) and other improbable moves. Similarly, a goal of fiction is to use trickery by choosing a plot twist that will not be guessed by the reader, but when the twist comes, for it to seem destined.

But insincerity must have other dimensions. Nabokov probably didn’t mean that the author was “insincere,” but that the work of art itself was insincere in some way. But insincerity has such a negative connotation. What great fiction could be described as insincere?

Perhaps Nabokov was thinking of his own oeuvre. In “Lolita,” a prime example of a deceitful first person narrative, Humbert skews the course of events to portray himself in the best light. Insincere narrators — or even ones believing themselves to be sincere, but are not — do make for splendid books.

But what books would you describe as “splendidly insincere?” Books or authors, I suppose, though it might be easier to choose books.

And would any of these make the list?

A list of Chess Fiction:

  • Nabokov’s The Defense
  • Raymond Chandler The Big Sleep
  • Michael Chabon The Yiddish Policeman’s Union
  • Samuel Beckett Murphy – both players try to lose
  • The Courter (Short Story), Salman Rushdie
  • The Ten Best Chess Books (from The Guardian)