The envelope, please. Will it be Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, a novel that “challenges the old bit of wisdom ‘Write what you know’ to devastating effect”? Or will the “magnificent mischief” of Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk triumph? What about Laurent Binet’s “truly important and far-reaching” HHhH? In nonfiction, can Katherine Boo be expected to walk off with another prize for her “minutely researched, compassionately reported” Behind the Beautiful Forevers?
Clearly, I’m not talking the Oscars. On February 28, just a few days after that overripe event, the National Book Critics Circle will announce its book awards for 2012. Already on our excellent web site (if I do say so myself), board members are offering their assessments of the finalists. Before you make bets on the winners, read the “30 Books” write-ups, from which I am quoting above. And please note that unlike the National Book Awards, whose reputed hunt for “best known” instead of the best made me see red, these finalists hit the unexpected—not just Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power and Zadie Smith’s NW but Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s In the House of the Interpreter, Lisa Jarnot’s Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus, Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey, and more.