Monitor reviews of National Book Award nominees

The 2009 National Book Award nominees are out. You can see the full list below, but for now I'm simply going to quote blogger Laura Nathan who notes, "I recognize the names of far more National Book Award judges than I do book titles and authors."

Some, however, were obvious – and excellent – choices and I'm going to quote from several cases where Monitor reviewers shared the judges' enthusiasm.

Of Colum McCann's "Let the Great World Spin," Monitor reviewer Yvonne Zipp wrote that, "In terms of sheer lyricism, McCann pulls out all the stops. My review copy was an absolute mess of Post-its and marked passages by the time I was halfway through." From multiple points of view, the novel tells the story of Aug. 7, 1974, the day that French high-wire artist Philippe Petit spent 45 minutes walking, hopping, and lying on a wire stretched 110 stories up between New York's World Trade Center towers. (It was a time, as Zipp notes, that, "New Yorkers gazed up at the towers in amazement, rather than horror.")

"Lark and Termite" by Jayne Anne Phillips, is a novel that Zipp says she was inclined to resist, due to its "magical disabled character." But despite her "heavy initial resistance," she says, she quickly discovered that the book has "as much poetry as a graduate seminar on John Donne." The novel is split between two weekends in July nine years apart. The first takes place in 1950, as Cpl. Robert Leavitt struggles in the chaos at the beginning of the Korean War. The second cuts to West Virginia, and Leavitt's wife, her daughter Lark, and her son with Leavitt, a severely disabled boy called Termite.

This is a novel, writes Zipp, that can "take 'a piece of a dry-cleaner bag a yard long and a few inches wide,' and turn it into a movable piece of the sky."

On the nonfiction side, Monitor reviewer Randy Dotinga said that "The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt" by T.J. Stiles is a book as epic as its subject. And in the children's/young adult category, Monitor reviewer Jenny Sawyer wrote that "Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice" by Phillip Hoose will allow "a new generation of girls – and boys" to "add Claudette Colvin to their list of heroines."

To see a full list of the 2009 National Book Award Nominees, click here.

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