I’ve finished reading all the National Book Award fiction finalists. Contemporary “literature” is a tough thing to judge, because the terms of the argument, the criteria in play — even the very idea of one thing being better than another objectively — have been, well, not “called into question” so much as “pummeled into submission” by post-structuralist literary critical theory. What is the purpose of a contemporary literary novel? I have no idea. Nor does anybody. If you do not know the purpose of a thing, you cannot really judge its quality.
But. I can only tell you which ones I liked more than which other ones because I found them enjoyable to read. (Note: reading enjoyability is definitively not the purpose of a contemporary literary novel, by all serious-minded literary accounts, but whatever.)
In descending order, most-liked first, least-liked last:
1. This is How You Lose Her
2. The Round House
3. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
4. A Hologram for the King
5. The Yellow Birds
I’ll have a full review of “This is How You Lose Her” up in a few days to go along with my reviews of the other finalists.
One last thing: this is not going to become a tradition. I find that I enjoy the books I randomly choose to read all by myself much more than I enjoyed the suggestions from the NBA judges. These books were, for the most part, less lively and weird than my usual diet. The only author I’ll take with me beyond this little project, and continue to read as he puts out new books, is Junot Diaz, whom I would have eventually gotten around to reading anyway. The rest are fine, just not my cuppas.