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2020 John Leonard Prize Finalists

It turns out only one of the six books I nominated for the 2020 National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Prize for a first book is a finalist (some years none of my nominees make it to the next round), and that book is Luster by Raven Leilani. This year there are seven finalists for Leonard Prize; Luster and the other six are listed in the following link as are the other 2020 NBCC awards finalists. This year I am a judge for the Leonard Prize and have read six of the seven finalists and am 2/3 through the seventh. I have until the beginning of March to decide which title will get my vote. #nationalbookcriticscircle Bookcritics.org #bookawards #johnleonardprize

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My 2020 first book nominees

13 days ago as a National Book Critics Circle voting member I
submitted my ballot on which I nominated six first books for
NBCC’s John Leonard Prize for a First Book. Any book published
in 2020 that is its author’s first published book is eligible. This
year I read 36 first books of varying genres, but all six books I
nominated are debut novels (in previous years I’ve also nominated
poetry, short story, essay collections and memoirs for the Leonard Prize). Here
are my picks in alphabetical order by author’s surname:

These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card

Little Gods by Meng Jin

Luster by Raven Leilani

Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey

Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq

The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata

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Best 2019 debut fiction books (IMHO)

As a voting National Book Critics Circle member I cast my ballot (electronically) last week nominating five 2019 first books for the John Leonard Prize. Any eligible 2019 first book that gets 20% of the member votes will become a finalist. My five include two debut short story collections and three debut novels:

The two debut short story collections are about young adults from marginalized communities: black, Latinx, and/or lgbtq Houston residentss in Lot by Bryan Washington, and Indian, Indian-American, and/or lgbtq characters in America and India both in the present day and earlier eras in White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar.

Ayşegül Savaş's debut novel Walking on the Ceiling features its first person narrator's interior monologue set mostly in Paris where she moves following her mother's passing but also in her native Istanbul from which she grows increasingly distant and disconnected the longer she lives in Paris, and as the political situation at home makes a return risky.

The other two debut novels also feature young women who run away as a response to grief for a parent. In Madhuri Vijay's The Far Field a young Bangalore woman with a post-graduate degree and a coveted job in a technology company leaves all that (and her father) behind to travel to the Indian part of Kashmir that is under martial law hoping to find the Kashmiri door to door salesman whom her late mother befriended. In Amanda Goldblatt's Hard Mouth the first person narrator is a lab technician in the Washington, DC suburbs who overcome by her terminally ill father's final illness flees to a remote mountaintop cabin, and the novel's most engaging section becomes a wilderness survival story.

Lot and The Far Field have decent chances of becoming finalists. The other three books probably are not on enough of my fellow critics' radars.

All previous Leonard Prize winners have been works of prose fiction. Other 2019 debut fiction books I recommend include:

Such Good Work by Johannes Lichtman

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

The Falconer by Dana Czapnik

Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari

Willa & Hesper by Amy Feltman

The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin

The Expectations by Alexander Tilney

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad

Golden Child by Claire Adam

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
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Brief review: The Rabbi of Lud by Stanley Elkin

I'm taking a break from reading and reviewing new books to catch up with some old ones on my TBR list. I'm also trying to improve my Hebrew and am currently reading and enjoying the Hebrew edition of Ya'akov Shabtai's unfinished last novel סוף דבר (published in English as Past Perfect).

In circumstances when I cannot read with my eyes I read with my ears. I just finished listening to the audiobook of The Rabbi of Lud by Stanley Elkin, a writer of whom I became aware while reading his friend William H. Gass while preparing to review The William H. Gass Reader. My brief review of The Rabbi of Lud appears on Goodreads.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth where my user name is the same as it is here.
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Book review: The William H. Gass Reader


"According to Gass a total aesthete reduces everything to style; the centrality of moral and ethical issues in his writing proves that Gass is not merely an aesthete. Whether or not they agree with him his readers will never be cognitively malnourished, and his poetic prose is a joy to read even when its vision is pessimistic." -- From my review of The William H. Gass Reader in New York Journal of Books Crossposted from Dreamwidth where my user name is the same as it is here.
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Book review: The Mandela Plot by Kenneth Bonert

"South African born Jewish-Canadian author Kenneth Bonert’s sophomore effort The Mandela Plot is a sequel to his multiple awards winning debut novel The Lion Seeker (also reviewed on NYJB) that continues the Helger family saga begun in the earlier volume in a rather dark combination coming of age story and political thriller. A concluding epilogue in the final fifth of the novel includes commentary on post-Apartheid South Africa in general and the predicament of its Jewish citizens in particular." -- From my review of The Mandela Plot by Kenneth Bonert in New York Journal of Books 

Crossposted from Dreamwidth where my user name is the same as it is here.
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Book review: Late Beauty: Poems by Tuvia Ruebner

"Readers who devoured In the Illuminated Dark will welcome the additional poems in Late Beauty, and for readers unacquainted with Ruebner’s poetry Late Beauty provides a portal." -- From my review of Late Beauty: Selected Poems of Tuvia Ruebner translated from the Hebrew by Lisa Katz and Shahar Bram in New York Journal of Books

Crossposted from Dreamwidth where my user name is the same as it is here.