Sunday, November 18, 2007

Winning Formula for National Book Awards

Denis Johnson won for fiction for "Tree of Smoke" which from the blurb reminds me of Robert Olen Butler's A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain and Tim O'Brian's Going After Cacciato and The Things They Carried; i.e. another Vietnam fiction. Don't get me wrong. I love the three books abovementioned and re-read them. But then the Vulture section of New York Magazine came out with: "How to Win a National Book Award in Five Steps" which is short of saying that Johnson will win and he did.

Don't Be a Young Debut Novelist
Do Aim for World-Historical Significance
Don't Write Short Stories
Do Be a Literary Insider
Do Expand Your Demo

Boris Kacka wrote on the last "do":

Denis Johnson already has the literary-insider and world-historical-significance angles covered: He’s a sometime poet and a big name writer, and his sprawling Vietnam novel is a sweeping indictment of American military ambitions with obvious topical parallels. And he's got the inside track on another requirement: widening your audience. He already had the poetry fans; with Jesus' Son, he won over the younger lit hipsters, and now Tree of Smoke hits the baby-boomers and history buffs where they live. So his appeal probably runs straight through all five members of the committee — like that of past winners Cormac McCarthy and William Styron. He's not as easily crowned as front-runners past, but then, the competition isn't what it used to be. (In 1980, Styron’s co-nominees were Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, and Scott Spencer.) Chances are, you'll see Johnson's wife at the podium Wednesday. Johnson himself is in Iraq writing. That's a story in itself — and one the judges will probably like

And so it was. That is Denis's wife, Cindy, accepting the award.

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