Tuesday, November 1, 2011

national failures

what it is: national book award winners
where i found it: various bookstores


In the last year or so I've found myself slogging through a few books that have won the National Book Award. This hasn't been systematic or on purpose, but I now know what to expect when I see the NBA medallion on the cover of a book: get ready for some long winded crap. Each book has incredible writing, breathtaking and impactful passages, and interesting themes, but it seems like these are the books you write when your reputation evolves to the point that the editors no longer have free power with the scissors.

Denis Johnson wrote Jesus' Son, one of the best books of short stories I've ever read. His NBA winning Tree of Smoke is 90% uninteresting garbage interspersed with some fantastic 'Nam craziness.


William Vollman has written God knows how many great books about global travel, whores, train hopping, homelessness, radiation exposure, insects, and electricity. This might not make sense to you unless you've read some of his books, and you should. But as far as his NBA winner Europe Central: Shostakovitch is great, just not nearly so much of him.


Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country just goes on and on about the same stuff, sort of trying to be like Faulkner with all the differing perspectives and stuff, but lord have mercy. I was, however, shocked and awed by the part where the alligators and flamingos get massacred, and I never thought of Florida as being such a brutal no man's land.




Why did I stick it out with these tomes that should have been 100 pages each, tops? Because the cover said they won the National Book Award and I though great things must be lurking in the latter pages. Lies.