Sunday, April 24, 2016

The 2016 Big Book Award Long List

The Big Book Award announced its long list on Wednesday and, yes, I was delusional in thinking I’d blog about it during the week: the most I accomplished before the weekend was placing orders for a few of the books! The list of finalists will be announced by the end of May. Here are some of the books on the long list, in alphabetical order within my categories:

Books I’ve already read:

  • Yuri Buida’s Цейлон (Ceylon) (previous post), which combines the personal and the historical in a fairly balanced, disciplined novel about a family.
  • Evgeny (Eugene) Vodolazkin’s Авиатор (The Aviator), which I finished the other night and loved for its blend of genres, epochs, and themes, some familiar from Laurus and Solovyov and Larionov.

Books already on the shelf or on order; I’ve read other books by all but one of these authors:

  • Vasily Avchenko’s Кристалл в прозрачной оправе (excerpt) (Crystal in a Transparent Frame), which describes itself as “stories about water and rocks” and focuses on Vladivostok. Shortlisted for last year’s NatsBest; quite possibly destined for beach reading, given the coastal theme.
  • Pyotr Aleshkovsky’s Крепость The Citadel, which I bought after reading the beginning of the PDF that Aleshkovsky’s literary agency sent me: archaeology and medieval constructions caught me.
  • Aleksandr Arkhangelsky’s Правило муравчика. Сказка про бога, котов и собак (excerpt) (The Purrer Rule. A Tale About God, Cats, and Dogs (a terribly troublesome title, thanks to the word I’ve rendered here, for now, as “purrer,” which Arkhangelsky says plays on the Russian term for the right-hand rule, which I didn’t know existed in either language, and mur, which is purr.)), which I’m a little skeptical about because I don’t often do well with fables and parables. But Arkhangelsky clearly knows cats.
  • Maria Galina’s Автохтоны (part 1) (part 2) (Autochthons, I guess), which sounds like a Galina-esque combination of phantasmagoria, magical realism, history, and a regular-guy hero.
  • Dmitry Danilov’s Есть вещи поважнее футбола (There Are Things A Little More Important Than Football/Soccer), which I bet I can read now that I have new glasses! Danilov is one of the only authors I’d trust to keep me reading a book about soccer. (This is already shaping up to be quite a season: ocean, cats, soccer…)
  • Aleksei Ivanov’s Ненастье (Foul Weather), which is apparently about an Afghan War veteran who robs an armored car. I enjoyed Ivanov’s Geographer (previous post) and a couple of my Goodreads friends seemed to love this book… (I hope I do, too, since it’s 638 pages!)
  • Igor Savyelev’s Вверх на малиновом козле (Upwards, in a Puce Vehicle; the cover illustrates this pretty nicely and you can see the vehicle is a Jeep-like vehicle, one that has all sorts of slangy nicknames, like the goat in the title), involving a young lawyer going to Abkhazia for his wedding. I’ve enjoyed reading Savelyev in the past and, well, another wedding novel set in the Caucasus sounds natural after reading Alisa Ganieva’s Bride and Groom (previous post).
  • Ludmila Ulitskaya’s Лестница Якова (Jacob’s Ladder), a family saga set during 1911-2011; I read the beginning after Ulitskaya’s agent sent me the text.
  • Leonid Yuzefovich’s Зимняя дорога, (The Winter Road), which is described as a “documentary novel”: the cover sums up the details with “General A.N. Pepeliaev and anarchist I.Ia. Strod in Yakutia. 1922-1923.”

Here are some others that sound especially interesting for various reasons:

  • Sergei Kuznetsov’s Калейдоскоп (excerpt) (Kaleidoscope), dozens of characters and their stories, set in the twentieth century; one of my Goodreads friends just started it and said she was enjoying it, noting sex and vampires.
  • Boris Minaev’s Мягкая ткань (Soft Fabric; these links only lead to the first book, Batiste, within what must be a planned multiple-volume novel/series…), which I know nothing about other than that it’s set around the beginning of World War 1 and a friend (real-life, this time) absolutely loved it.
  • Sasha Okun’s Камов и Каминка (Kamov and Kaminka), which purports to involve art and a detective story; titled for two artists.
  • Valerii Khazin’s Прямой эфир (Live Broadcast) is intriguing because the cover makes it look like a romance novel and the description says it’s a detective/adventure novel about a man running from terrorists… but Alexander Gritsman, writing for Interpoezia, focuses largely on its poetic aspects. (I admit I made a very superficial skim of his piece: I don’t want to spoil the book for myself with details.)
  • There are also several books about writers that I’ll list without titles: Aleksei Varlamov on Vasily Shukshin; Zakhar Prilepin on Anatoly Mariengof, Boris Kornilov, and Vladimir Lugovskoi; and Dmitrii Bykov on Vladimir Mayakovsky (submitted as a manuscript and listed as such on the Big Book site).

I could go on and on (and on) about the other half of the list but will stop there pending announcement of the finalists next month.

Disclaimers: I’m a member of the Big Book’s jury, the Literary Academy, and will vote on finalists later this year. Authors and literary agents have given me electronic copies of several of these books.

Up Next: The National Bestseller Award’s short list. Vodolazkin’s The Aviator, which truly does soar. Alexander Snegirev’s Vera, which I may yet call Faith. Translations coming out in 2016—send in those entries!


  1. Thanks as always for your very informative award posts!

    a terribly troublesome title

    I think I'd go for "the right-cat rule" myself, since it gives more of a clue to the meaning, but obviously there's no right answer.

    Vasily Shuksin

    Should be Shukshin.

    I'm looking forward to Bykov on Mayakovsky; I'm reading his wonderful bio of Pasternak now.

    1. And thank you, as always, for your proofreading services, Languagehat! Personal names and titles are always the hardest parts of these lists to get right and this time I almost put in a disclaimer about inconsistent transliteration.

      I like "right-cat rule" and, hmm, I wonder if there's a way to work purring or kneading or some other endearing cat behavior into the title. I'm very curious to read the book.

      It's good to hear you're enjoying Bykov's book on Pasternak. If I had to choose one of the three long list books about writers to read, I think I'd probably choose Bykov on Mayakovsky, though I wouldn't be at all averse to reading either of the other two.