National Book Awards

Oprah giveth and Oprah taketh away. But in the end, nothing apparently could keep "The Corrections" from winning the National Book Award.

Despite an uncomfortable spat with the powerful talkshow host last month, Jonathan Franzen took top honors at the 52nd annual ceremony in Times Square Wednesday night.

The award for nonfiction went to Andrew Solomon for "The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression" (Scribner). The sometimes humorous and always horror-filled account of his battle with depression also includes a vast summary of medical research, along with narratives of other depression victims, ranging from Emily Dickinson to the Unabomber.

For short reviews of all the fiction and nonfiction books nominated, click here: http://www.csmonitor.com/cgi-bin/getasciiarchive?script/2001/10/18/p20s1.txt

Alan Dugan's "Poems Seven: New and Collected Poetry" (Seven Stories Press) won the poetry prize, adding to the author's first National Book Award in 1961 and his Pulitzer Prize in 1962.

The prize for Young People's Literature went to "True Believer" (Atheneum Books), by Virginia Euwer Wolff. The second in a planned trilogy of free-verse novels (the first was "Make Lemonade" in 1993), "True Believer" tells the wrenching story of a high school girl determined to escape a violent inner-city life. (Ages 13 and up).

Each winner received $10,000.

Interest in this year's ceremony was heightened by speculation about how the Franzen-Oprah tiff would play out. Oprah surprised critics when she chose "The Corrections" for her wildly popular book club in Sept. The comic social novel describes a dysfunctional Midwestern family dealing with the father's Parkinson's disease and the mother's desperate efforts to engineer a final Christmas at home with her three grown children.

Although "The Corrections" was already topping the bestseller charts, selection by Oprah was expected to increase sales considerably. In response, the publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, printed an estimated 800,000 copies.

But in Oct., just as the Oprah copies were being shipped, Franzen shot himself in the foot by making disparaging comments about having her logo added to the front of his book. On the public radio talkshow "Fresh Air," Franzen confessed that he'd never seen the Oprah show, and suggested that her approval was something of a stigma. He also claimed that sophisticated bookstore patrons told him they had been discouraged from reading his book when they heard Oprah had chosen it.

Several prominent authors immediately counter-attacked, publicly calling Franzen a snob and lauding Oprah for her good taste and her ability to promote literature.

For her part, Oprah withdrew her invitation to Franzen to appear on her TV show, saying that she didn't want to make him uncomfortable. Caught in the middle, Farrar, Straus & Giroux began to worry about how they would handle hundreds of thousands of returned books.

At last night's ceremony, Franzen sounded all the appropriately repentant tones, thanking Oprah for her "enthusiasm and advocacy."

Also at the ceremony, playwright Arthur Miller received a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation. Ironically, Oprah won the same award in 1999.

For the third year in a row, comedian and writer Steve Martin hosted the ceremony.

Attendance was lighter this year at the Marriott Marquis ballroom, reflecting concerns about recent terrorist attacks.

Email charlesr@csps.com.

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