The National Bonk Awards (By Which I Mean The National Book Award and the Bad Sex in Fiction Award)

on Friday, November 15, 2013
Thought you'd escaped my fetish for book awards? Think again.

It's National Book Award week and, like the Booker, this year boasts a pretty impressive shortlist. In case you haven't seen it (and let's face it, although Americans think there are only two book awards - this and the Pulitzer - those of us in the Yankee diaspora tend to be a little more blase about it all) the books battling it out for hometown glory are:

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Tenth of December by George Saunders
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon

Hard to pick a winner here, not that my predictions ever count for anything (right, Jim Crace?). A number of factors seem to bode well for George Saunders. Not only is he a long time darling of the American literati but this particular book got crazy buzz when it was released. Plus, with Alice Munro taking out the Nobel, this might just be the year of the short story. Personally I wasn't all that fussed with Tenth of December. Sure, it had a couple of great stories, but I could take or leave the rest. The other big buzz magnet this year was Kushner who had everyone from the latte-sipping West Villagers to the brisket-munching Brooklynites (apparently nobody above Union Square gave a shit) heralding the arrival of a new saviour. It's been on my shelf for ages and, I suppose, if it wins I'll get around to reading it. But for now it remains amongst the books I won't be reading this year. Lahiri gets a second bite at the apple but I suspect that come Wednesday she'll still be hungry. Reviews for Pynchon have been kinda patchy but I'm thinking they might give him the prize just to see if he turns up or if, as I suspect, Bleeding Edge was one of the manuscripts found in JD Salinger's safe. Which leaves my personal pick - The Good Lord Bird. The story of abolitionist John Brown told through the eyes (and stylised patio) of a cross dressing slave, it has WINNER written all over it. Also, as it happens, it's the next book on my pile to read and I've had some form in the past reading the book that won a major award at the time that award was announced.

This is also the time of the most enjoyable literary award on the calendar - The Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Run by my favourite book rag, The Literary Review, it is bestowed on the most off-purple prose in a new novel (erotica is excluded from contention so EL James has never got a look in). This year's shortlist is:

My Education by Susan Choi
The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood
House of Earth by Woody Guthrie
Motherland by William Nicholson
The Victoria System by Eric Reinhardt
The World Was All Before Them by Matthew Reynolds
The City of Devi by Manil Suri
Secrecy by Rupert Thomson

Special props to Suri for "As he presses forth, he pulls me to him, so that my body bends against his in the same arc, like in the yoga asanas we once practiced. I feel his penis climb up my thigh", but surely the frontrunner has to be Woodie Guthrie's godawful sex scenes in an otherwise pretty decent book. Those of you with photographic memories might recall my review: "Think a less accomplished Steinbeck or Sinclair, with the added bonus of long descriptions of the protagonist's penis and you'll have some idea of what you're in for." Don't believe me? Here's a small... um... taste: "So magnified and so keen were her feelings that her inner nerves could even feel the bumps, the ridges, the pimples, the few stray hairs along the shaft of his male rod." It's gold, Jerry. GOLD!!!

Follow the hilarity on Twitter at #badsex


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