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National Book Critics Circle Awards announced

The National Book Critics Circle Awards honor (since 1974) the best literature published in English in six categories—autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, non fiction and poetry. These are the only American awards chosen by the critics themselves. They were established to honor outstanding writing and foster a national conversation about reading, criticism and literature. The shortlist was released on January 2012 and the finalists announced last week, representing a range of good books to read and enjoy, and perhaps a couple to put away for summer reads. This year’s award for fiction goes to a collection of short stories BINOCULAR VISION: NEW & SELECTED SHORT STORIES by Edith Pearlman. It is not a big surprise since Edith Pearlman books have always been highly regarded by literary critics. She has been hailed as one of the greatest contemporary masters of short story and she has won multiple awards for her previous three collections. The reccurring theme through this magnificent collection is human need to connect with others regardless of situation, religion or country of origin. LIBERTY’S EXILES by Maya Jasanoff won in the non fiction category. In this fascinating and very different look at the American Revolution the author has focused her attention on the losing side. What happened to the loyalists, where did they go? And how did they rebuild their lives? The book answers these questions by exquisitely researching the life of one woman Elizabeth Johnson and her family who after the revolution left for St Augustine, Edinburgh, Jamaica and finally settled in Nova Scotia. John Lewis Gaddis took the top honors in biography  for GEORGE F KENNAN: AN AMERICAN LIFE.  Kennan was the mastermind behind the American policy for the Soviets during the Cold War. He was also a deeply troubled individual and his story makes for a pretty engrossing read. MEMORY PALACE: A MEMOIR by Mira Bartok won the autobiography award. It is maybe not so strange a coincidence that another heart breaking memoir of childhood overshadowed by mental illness of a parent has a palatial word in the title. If you were a fan of GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls you will definitely love the story of Mira Bartok. Its a magnificent literary memoir of family, love and ultimate forgiveness. SPACE IN CHAINS by Laura Kasichke received the top award for poetry. Laura Kasichke verses have been described as having a haunting quality of our thoughts and dreams. The award for criticism has gone to Geoff Dyer for his collection of essays OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE HUMAN CONDITION which consists of twenty-five years of essays, reviews, and misadventures. The subjects of these essays range from haute couture, through his reflections on the status of jazz to some thoughts on sex in hotels, all in the unmistakable Dyer voice: inventive, original and thought provoking. anna@thereadingroom.com