2008 National Book Award Finalists

Click to read descriptions of each finalist.

The finalists for the 2008 National Book Award for Fiction have been announced. They are:

Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project (Riverhead)
Rachel Kushner, Telex from Cuba (Scribner)
Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country (Modern Library)
Marilynne Robinson, Home (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Salvatore Scibona, The End (Graywolf Press)

I’ve just started reading Home. It’s a companion novel to Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer-winning novel, Gilead, which is one of the most beautiful, affecting novels I’ve ever read. Jack Boughton, a central figure in both novels, is a powerfully heartbreaking character. Robinson writes with such measured grace that the mastery of her prose does not sink in until long after you’ve finished reading it. I’ve found myself, on numerous occasions, thinking about a passage in Gilead, pulling the book from my bookshelf to re-read it, and marveling at its understated greatness.

The winner will be announced at the 59th National Book Awards Ceremony and Dinner on November 19th in New York City. To read full descriptions of each finalist and the finalists for the Non-Fiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature categories, check out the National Book Foundation website.

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Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Buy it at Amazon.com

The 150-word Review: Faith has always been a vague concept that I’ve had difficulty embracing. It has been the source of miracles and atrocities alike, thus too powerful a notion to dismiss (or embrace) glibly. Marilynne Robinson’s 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Gilead,” is a rare work of fiction that explores the complexities of faith with brave sincerity.

Approaching the end of his days, Congregationalist minister John Ames, writes a letter to his young son, as a testament to his long life and his family’s generations-long connection to a small Kansas town, Gilead. His memoir gradually becomes a measured contemplation of the legacy left by one’s father and an accounting of his vocation. When the troubled son of his friend returns to Gilead, Ames must acknowledge the misgivings in his own heart and deeply question his faith. Through Ames’ final reflections, Robinson delivers the most deeply considered example of Grace I have ever read.

Having this book on your shelf would impress: aficionados of abolitionist history, theologians, fans of Robinson’s first novel “Housekeeping,” Midwesterners, literary critics, Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach, and Christian pacifists.

This book will go great with: Tallgrass Ale, (Tallgrass Brewery – Manhattan, Kansas)

Set the mood with: Father and Son by Cat Stevens

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, Gilead in the Scriptures means “hill of testimony or mound of witness.”