Sunday, February 5, 2017

The 2017 National Bestseller Award Longlist

This year’s National Bestseller Award longlist was announced last week and, as always, it’s fun to look through the list and see who nominated what. This year, 56 nominators nominated a total of 54 books. (I think I counted correctly… this isn’t so difficult, but I do have occasional trouble with these matters…) With so many books, it would be tough to list even half of them, so I’ll pick out a few that sound particularly interesting (to me) and add some titles by authors I’m not familiar with, focusing on books available in printed book form. The last category—which I could rephrase as “discovering new authors”—is, by the way, something Vadim Levental, the prize’s secretary, mentions in his commentary about the list: essentially, NatsBest wants to help readers navigate a sea of books. As always with NatsBest, I’m very much looking forward to reading reviews of the longlisted books. I’ve always enjoyed them because they’re so varied, individual, and informative. Best of all, NatsBest’s new site makes it far easier to find reviews quickly. The shortlist will be announced on April 14; the award ceremony will be held on June 3.

Two books were nominated twice:
  • Dmitrii Novikov’s Голомяное пламя (hmm, the first word is an adjectival form of “голомя,” a Pomor word that means open sea or distant sea… so maybe something like Flame Out at Sea or Flame Over the Open Sea…), which I’ve seen recommended several times already this year, is a book I have a special interest in because Novikov is from Petrozavodsk and writes about the Russian north. Nominated by Natalia Babintseva and Andrei Rudalev.
  • Aleksandr Brener’s Жития убиенных художников (Life Stories [as in lives, in the context of “lives of saints”] of Slain Artists) was nominated by Lyubov Belyatskaya and Ilya Danishevsky. According to the publisher, Hylaea, the book is composed of brief stories/chapters about Brener’s experiences in various places around the world, looking at people, meetings, attachments, impressions… A review by Aleksandr Chantsev makes it sound far more promising!

Books I’m already looking forward to:
  • Anna Babiashkina’s Прежде чем сдохнуть (Before I Croak) has already been translated, by Muireann Maguire for Glas, so it’s easy to leave the description to reviewers Phoebe Taplin and Michael Orthofer. The Russian book is on my shelf; the English version is on my computer, thanks to the author. Nominated by Anna Kozlova.
  • Elena Dolgopyat’s Родина (Motherland) is a collection of short stories by an author whose work I’ve enjoyed reading in the past; the book was nominated by editor Yulia Kachalkina of Ripol Klassik, which has other books on the longlist. As Levental’s commentary notes, Kachalkina and Elena Shubina—whose imprint for AST have won many awards in recent years and who nominated Andrei Rubanov’s Патриот (The Patriot) for the NatsBest,—both have many nominees on the NatsBest longlist this year.
  • Mikhail Gigolashvili’s Тайный год (The Secret Year, though I suspect this is “secret” with a good dose of mysteriousness…) is set during the time of Ivan the Terrible and was nominated by Evgenii Vodolazkin. I’ve enjoyed two of Gigolashvili’s previous books so am looking forward to this one.
  • Figl’-Migl’s Эта страна (This Country), nominated by Pavel Krusanov, is a book I want to know nothing about: it’s enough for me to know that it concerns political prisoners from the early Soviet period. I’ve been waiting for it! F-M won the NatsBest a few years ago.

I could add another five to ten more titles that I’m already interested in for various and sundry reasons—many are by authors I’ve read before and enjoyed, like Eltang, Ivanov, and Remizov—but will just skip to a few authors who are completely new to me:
  • Lyubov Mul’menko’s book, nominated by Konstantin Shavlovsky, was easy to pick because of its title—Веселые истории о панике (Cheery Stories about Panic)—and though the two current reader reviews on aren’t exactly ecstatic, they mention downsides like postmodernism and feeling they have nothing in common with Mul’menko’s view of life. Those are factors I don’t usually consider negatives.
  • Vladimir Sotnikov’s Улыбка Эммы (Emma’s Smile) was nominated by Maksim Amelin, who sees the novel as a potential intellectual (he also uses the word “existential) bestseller: it’s about a father and son, and covers aspects of Russian history from the 1920s through the 1980s, and is set in several Former Soviet Republics.
  • Moshe Shanin’s Места не столь населенные (hmm, literally something like Places Not So Populated, but I have a strong hunch this title plays on the idiom “места не столь отдаленные,” for which my Lubenskaya phraseology dictionary offers up “(a place of) exile ,” though it can also be used as a term for prison. An article on this interesting idiom.) was nominated by critic Valeria Pustovaya, who calls the book post-village literature. Places contains stories set in the Arkhangel’sk region so there’s my Northern connection again: I’ve visited Arkhangelsk, though only the city, quite a few times.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. Also: I translated NatsBest secretary Vadim Levental’s Masha Regina and know some of the nominators for this year’s award. It’s been a busy weekend so my proofreading abilities are not very strong!

Up Next: Paul Goldberg’s The Yid, covering my thoughts on the book, which I recommend highly, and (if the weather forecast is wrong and there’s no snow…) his upcoming visit to Portland for the launch of book’s paperback edition. Also: Sergei Kuznetsov’s Kaleidoscope, which I’m still loving and still making good progress on… This is shaping up to be a year of very long books.


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