Thursday, October 15, 2009

Two Short Story Collections Are Finalists for the National Book Awards

Here's something I don't get tired of: More good news about short story collections. The National Book Awards announced their fiction finalists yesterday, and two of the five are short story collections: Bonnie Jo Campbell's American Salavage and Daniyal Mueunuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. Readers of this blog (who are legion) may remember that in a previous post about summer reading, I pointed out that author and NPR commentator Alan Cheuse had recommended Muenuddin's collection. Well, guess what, he'd also recommended Jayne Anne Phillips' evocative novel* Lark and Termite, which is another finalist for the National Book Awards. While Cheuse is only one of the five fiction judges, in retrospect his summer picks provided a partial preview of the NBA finalists.

As I said in that post, I can highly recommend Muenuddin's excellent collection. Yesterday, Bonnie Jo Campbell's book immediately jumped to the top of my pile and, half way through, I'd have to say it's a brilliant choice by the NBA judges. It's especially impressive because of the huge number of fiction entries (236) they read this year. One of the best things a book award can do is to shine the spotlight on deserving and underappreciated books, authors, and publishers. This group of judges obviously didn't cut any corners and gave their full attention to a university press book (Wayne State) that didn't get widespread attention. Kudos to them. That's why Julie and I make sure we read everything we get. You never know where you'll find a gem.

By the way, one of the other NBA judges is author Lydia Millet, who has a short story collection, Love in Infant Monkeys, just out from indy publisher Softskull Press. I wouldn't be surprised if she were a big advocate of Campbell's collection, but that's just a guess.

* Full disclosure, Jayne Anne is a colleague of my wife's at Rutgers-Newark, and a friend of ours.