(Gannett News Service, Chris Kridler/FLORIDA TODAY)
Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY
Three novelists who've gained literary respect as well as commercial success - Junot Diaz, (This is How You Lose Her), Louise Erdrich (The Round House) and Dave Eggers (A Hologram for the King) - are among the finalists for the National Book Award for fiction announced Wednesday.
The other two finalists are debut novels about the war in Iraq and its aftermath: Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds and Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Half-Time Walk.
The five finalists for the non-fiction award include The Passage of Power, Robert Caro's fourth book on Lyndon Johnson; Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo's account of life in a Mumbai slum; and House of Stone, a memoir, set mostly in Lebanon, by Anthony Shadid, a Lebanese-American reporter who died in February at 43 while covering the civil war in Syria for The New York Times.
The awards - rivaled in the book world only by the Pulitzers - were announced on on MSNBC's Morning Joe, the first time in the awards' 62-year history that the finalists were revealed on TV. In the past, they were announced at a literary site, such as William Faulkner's home in Oxford, Miss., or City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.
And in contrast to recent years, when many of finalists and even the winners were not well known, this year's selections include several books that not only got rave reviews but landed on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books List:
-- Caro, whose third book on LBJ, Master of the Senate, won a National Book Award in 2003, reached No. 15 with his latest book that opens with a vivid description of the Kennedy assassination from Johnson's perspective.
-- Diaz, a native of the Dominican Republic who grew up in New Jersey and now teaches at MIT, hit No. 29 on the list with his latest, a collection of linked stories about love, or its lack. It features the novelist's alter ego, Yunior, from Diaz's novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008.
-- Boo's first book, based on her reporting in Mumbai for The New Yorker, reached No. 28 on the list, driven mostly by rave reviews. It got 3 and 1/2 stars from USA TODAY's Deirdre Donahue who called it "original, detailed and so unbelievably sad, it makes Slumdog Millionaire (the hit move) seem almost like a romantic comedy."
And while Eggers' and Erdrich's latest novels - hers is about an attack on a woman at an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota; his is about a struggling American businessman in Saudi Arabia -- haven't made the best-selling list so far this year, they've had best sellers before, including Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius in 2000 and Erdrich's The Master Butcher's Singing Club in 2004.
The other finalists this year are:
Non-fiction: Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1945-1956 and Domingo Martinez's The Boy Kings of Texas, a debut memoirs about coming of age in Brownsville, on the border with Mexico.
Young People's Literature: William Alexander's Goblin Secrets, Carrie Arcos' Out of Reach, Patricia McCormick's Never Fall Down, Eliot Schrefer's Endangered, and Steve Sheinkin's Bomb: The Race to Build -- and Steal -- the World's Most Dangerous Weapons.
Poetry: David Ferry's Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations, Cynthia Huntington's Heavenly Bodies, Tim Seibles' Fast Animal, Alan Shapiro's Night of the Republic and Susan Wheeler's Meme.
The four winners, selected by five-member panels of other writers, will be announced at a black-tie gala in New York City, Nov. 14, hosted by Faith Salie, the actress, comedian and former Rhodes Scholar.
Winners receive $10,000 each, and a boost in their literary reputations and book sales. To. be eligible, a book must be published in the USA between Dec. 1, 2011, and Nov. 30, 2012, and be written by a U.S. citizen.
The awards are sponsored by the National Book Foundation, which is supported by the publishing industry.