Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dylan Thomas Shortlist Announced

The Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist was announced. I am still only halfway through the novels, so I am going to wait to reflect on that aspect of the shortlist (although I can already say that one of the novels they picked would not have made my cut)!

I had pinpointed three as deserving the shortlist, knowing they probably wouldn't pick three poets, but they agreed with two of my three. Adebe D.A. was excluded, which is a shame, but I'm still following her in Facebook so I can keep up with what she does next. Both Watering Can by Caroline Bird and Clamor by Elyse Fenton made it to the shortlist. I fully expected Caroline Bird to as she seems to have more of an established career than the others on the longlist, including prior nominations, but I was pleased that they had the same experience with the Fenton that I did.

We all still have a lot of time, at least to get through the shortlist, because the winners won't be announced until December 1.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Poets on the Dylan Thomas Longlist

Dylan Thomas Prize Longlist 2010

Jenny's favorite books »

As I believe I've mentioned before, I like to use award nominees as a way to expand beyond what I would normally read. One blog I follow, Rebecca's Pocket, often has links to various book prizes and articles containing different themed lists. I blame her for my to-read list now approaching 400, actually.

One day there was a link to the Dylan Thomas Prize Longlist for 2010. I'd never heard of it, so I went to check it out. The Dylan Thomas Prize has been around since 2006, and awards writers under 30 who have written in the English language. This year's nominees include poetry, plays, and novels.

I'm trying to get through everything, but I focused on the poets first. For me, the poetry volumes fall into three categories.

Not my thing:

Cailleach: The Hag of Beara by Leanne O'Sullivan.
The entire volume revolves around the concept of Cailleach, a Celtic wise-woman figure. A nice exercise, but I just wasn't into it.

Shore Ordered Ocean by Dora Malech.
I felt like she was trying too hard, experimenting with grammar and vocabulary in a way that made my head hurt rather than spurn me on to further reading.

Enjoyable but ultimately forgettable:

One Eye'd Leigh by Katherine Kilalea.
Sometimes I think poets, particularly female poets, get into a rut of only writing about their immediate daily life. I think I feel the same way about Linda Pastan, actually, and she is acclaimed, so there are people who will also really like Kilalea. I think because of the mundane subject matter of the poems, I just don't remember anything about them.

Superb, hoping they make the shortlist:

Clamor by Elyse Fenton.
This entire volume is from the perspective of the poet whose husband is deployed in Baghdad. I said earlier I didn't care for concept poetry, but this is fantastic. She is so honest about the balance between support and worry, violence and the media, and the reality vs. the fantasy after someone returns from war. These were gut wrenching.

Watering Can by Caroline Bird.
I would be surprised if she didn't make the shortlist. Bird's poems are enjoyable to read, some of them are hilarious, and they demand to be read out loud. Lost Tuesday is my favorite, and meant even more because I read it on a very bad Tuesday!

Ex nihilo by Adebe D.A.
I have to say, I think this poet has the potential to be great. She has a unique voice and balances extreme intelligence with cultural resonance. My favorite of the group of poets nominated this time around. I particularly enjoyed "New York, My Future Love," "Colour Lessons," and "I Am Not Cleopatra."

The shortlist is supposed to be announced sometime this month, but I'm working through the novels soon. I read The Girl with Glass Feet a few months back because I was at the public library and it had a pretty cover, but there are still eight to go!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thurber Prize 2010

Thurber Prize Shortlist 2010

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

How I Became a Famous Novelist

Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?: And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask

Jenny's favorite books »

The Thurber Prize is an annual prize awarded for humor in American writing. Three novels were nominated this year, see the links above for the titles. Well, really, one was a novel and two were memoirs, if we're being particular.

I don't know what to think. What does a book have to include to be considered funny? Am I looking for something that makes me laugh out loud? Is a chuckle sufficient? What if it is something so close to home, so accurate, that it makes me groan instead of laugh?

I recently asked one of my online book clubs what books they found funny. (See the Sword and Laser discussion, What Books Make you LOL). To be fair, it is a sci-fi/fantasy book club, so I shouldn't have been surprised by the number of recommendations for Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Wodehouse. I haven't tried Wodehouse, but the humor in Adams and Pratchett is the type that doesn't actually make me laugh. I understand *why* it is funny but it is more annoying than laughable. I just don't have a British-humor sensibility.

Let me pay more attention to the nominees for the Thurber Prize Award, which doesn't get awarded until November. I really enjoyed the Janzen book, although not because it was "funny" per se. She is a skilled storyteller, and between her husband leaving her for Bob from and her tales of growing up Mennonite, it was an interesting and personal read. It actually made me wonder if I grew up Mennonite without my knowledge, particularly in one moment where her Mom sings this song in the car that my mother always sang in the car. (You can see the lyrics here, it alone is worth a laugh!)

While I liked the Janzen the most, I would probably consider Hely's book, How I Became a Famous Novelist, the "funniest." It is about a writer, Pete Tarslaw, who decides to write a novel and become famous to get back at his college girlfriend. It is also somewhat of a commentary on the publishing industry and the world of readers and how there is no accounting for popularity! Strangely, the plot sounds strangely similar to another book I have on my to-read list, Thieves of Manhattan. They will be interesting to compare.

You may notice I'm not really talking about the Dunn book that was nominated. I had to force myself to finish it, despite its brevity. I didn't find it funny or clever or interesting. Not everyone should write a memoir! I think her biggest failing was to write about her crazy family and not separate herself from them. It would have been much more entertaining if there had been a contrast, but no! Instead she talks extensively about how she is just like them, which to me shows she lacks the perspective to tell the story from a humorous perspective. Since she worked at Rolling Stone and MTV but didn't seem to fit into that world, I think that would have been more interesting. Maybe for her second work.

What writing do you find funny?