Tuesday, October 26, 2010

They Were Robbed! Part One

It's a swing!...and a miss. Poor Gianna.

The nominees for the National Book Award were announced a couple of weeks ago, and like any other list, everyone has an opinion about this one, too, including your intrepid book reps.  I will not condemn the books that made the list--I haven't yet had much of an opportunity to read the non-Random House titles (I have read Parrot & Olivier in America, Peter Carey's historical fiction of an Alexis de Tocqueville-like character and his rascal companion).  Before the list was announced, though, Gianna and I had speculated on the books we read this year that we felt were worthy of consideration for one of the top literary prizes of the year.  Let's call our award the Slappy after the dorky high five Gianna and I shared on stage at our sales conference last March, as the diminutive Gianna flailed at my freakishly tall, fully extended arm.  We are not above company-wide dorkiness, particularly when lots of wine and barely edible conference food contribute to a sense of either ephemerality or indestructibility.

The first Slappy nomination for fiction published in 2010 goes to:

Jennifer Egan for A Visit from the Goon Squad.  We had the pleasure of meeting Egan at the Texas Book Festival a few weeks ago, and I'm pleased to say that she was personable, modest, brilliant, and charming.  Even if she'd been a Russell Crowe with her admiring public, though, I would still love her as the woman who wrote one of my favorite books of the 2000's, Look at Me.  That earlier book was nominated for the National Book Award (the same year that Jonathan Franzen won for The Corrections and other nominees for fiction included Dan Chaon, Louise Erdrich, and Susan Straight) and her latest, a group of linked short stories, received strong bookseller and review praise.  One of my booksellers at BookPeople in Austin even bet me that Egan would win the NBA this year. 

A Visit from the Goon Squad loosely centers around a music executive, Bennie, and his kleptomaniac girlfriend Sasha.  The stories reveal the characters' through time and across continents with a musical undercurrent binding them together.  Egan is a masterful creator of engaging characters and she doesn't shy away from telling stories innovatively; one story is told as a Power Point presentation, for example. 

Another reason Jennifer Egan is cool--check out her website: http://www.jenniferegan.com/.  The site includes lots of tidbits about how and where she wrote A Visit from the Goon Squad as well as songs that accompany the stories in the book.  From Led Zeppelin to Coldplay to Pink Floyd to George Michael to Bjork, the music that influenced the writing adds a depth to her process.  Not to mention that you have to give credit to a woman who would publicly reveal that she listened to David Gray (or am I the only one who finds him whiny?).  She's a gutsy, amazingly astute writer and definitely deserving of an awkward, flailing high five from a freakishly tall rep.

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