The Los Angeles Times announced finalists in ten categories for the 34th annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, to be awarded April 11 at the University of Southern California’s Bovard Auditorium. The awards ceremony serves as a precursor to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (April 12–13), now in its 19th year and its fourth at the University of Southern California. The finalists’ list is wide-ranging, with satisfyingly little overlap in evidence between the Times finalists and finalists for either last fall’s National Book Awards (NBA) or the forthcoming National Book Critics Circle Awards (NBCC). Of the few overlap titles, Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being (Viking) has also been nominated for the NBCC’s fiction award, while Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (Knopf) is the one book acknowledged by all three award givers.
Ozeki’s title, a meditation on time that cuts between past and present, Japan and Canada, is joined by other adventuresome titles in the fiction category, including two from Graywolf: Percival Everett’s novel Percival Everett by Virgil Russell, an edgy look at identity, and Susan Steinberg’s Spectacle: Stories, linked stories about women confronting grief. Two more story collections, Jamie Quatro’s I Want to Show You More (Grove) and Ethan Rutherford’s The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories (Ecco), were nominated for the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. Also up in First Fiction: Jeff Jackson’s Mira Corpora (Two Dollar Radio), a runaway’s story with street cred; it’s had Best Book acknowledgement from Slate, Flavorwire, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and more. The one big-publicity, big-publisher name in first fiction is NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names (Reagan Arthur: Little, Brown).
The mystery/thrillers list offered a debut in Richard Compton’s Hour of the Red God (Sarah Crichton: Farrar) but went veteran with John Grisham’s Sycamore Row (Doubleday) and Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling (Mulholland: Little, Brown), whose author is better known as J.K. Rowling. This category has a real international feel, with Irish author Gene Kerrigan’s Gold Dagger winner, The Rage (Europa), and Ferdinand von Schirach’s German best seller, The Collini Case (Viking), joining Compton’s Kenya-set Hour of the Red God and Galbraith’s England-set The Cuckoo’s Calling. With fiction including Daniel Woodrell’s The Maid’s Version (Little, Brown) and first fiction Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest, about a woman’s mysterious and troubled past, the suspense at this year’s awards ceremony comes not only from wondering who will win.
Three history finalists—Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman’s FDR and the Jews (Belknap: Harvard), Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Harper), and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (S. & S.)—focus on 20th-century world history. But with Glenn Frankel’s The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend (Bloomsbury USA) and Alan Taylor’s The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832 (Norton), American history was not neglected.
The biography list tends to the arty, with Benita Eisler’s The Red Man’s Bones: George Catlin, Artist and Showman (Norton), Irish novelist Edna O’Brien’s Country Girl: A Memoir (Little, Brown), and Deborah Solomon’s American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell (Farrar) among the finalists. Current events range from New Orleans (Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, Crown) to Motor City (Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An American Autopsy, Penguin Pr.,) and include both Wright’s Going Clear and David Finkel’s NBCC-nominated Thank You for Your Service (Sarah Crichton: Farrar).
With the poetry finalists ranging from Joshua Beckman’s The Inside of an Apple (Wave) to debut author Lynn Xu’s Debts & Lessons (Omnidawn) and nary a big house in sight, the Book Prizes can be commended for uncovering fresh voices, as well as for singling out science and technology as a separate category. This year’s finalists highlight our concern for Earth’s fate, with both Annalee Newitz’s Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction (Doubleday) and Alan Weisman’s Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? (Little, Brown) making the cut. The rise of neuroscience is highlighted by Matthew D. Lieberman’s Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connect (Crown) and Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld’s Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience (Basic).
This year’s Los Angeles Times Book Prizes will also honor Susan Straight with the 2013 Robert Kirsch Award, a lifetime achievement award, and John Green with the Innovator’s Award. Straight, a Book Prize finalist in 2006 for A Million Nightingales and an NBA finalist in 2001 for Highwire Moon, was praised by Times book critic and awards emcee David L. Ulin as “a Southern California original and a tireless supporter, and creator, of our literary culture.” Librarians will generally agree that Printz winner and Nerdfighters purveyor Green, known for his YA fiction and encouragement of online reader activism, deserves recognition for his cutting-edge work. A full list of finalist and further details can be found at the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes site.