Reading the Carnegie Longlist

This list provides an ideal snapshot of a year in publishing

May 28, 2013

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Helping launch the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done in my many years at Booklist. We had very little time to get the awards off the ground last year. The official announcement that Booklist, RUSA, and Carnegie Corporation of New York would be partnering on an adult-book award on the same scale as the Newbery and Caldecott came in January 2012, and a mere six months later, the first winners were announced at ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim by committee chair Nancy Pearl.

This year the pace isn’t quite so frenetic, which will give us time to promote not only the winners (one in fiction and one in nonfiction) and the finalists (three each in the two categories), but also books featured on what we’re calling the longlist: 50 selections from Booklist’s Editors’ Choice list and RUSA’s Notable Books list, from which the finalists and winners will be drawn. Not being a member of the selection committee, I don’t need to read these 50 books on a deadline, but I’m going to try to read them anyway. And I think you should, too, because this longlist provides an ideal snapshot of a year in publishing.

Alas, I’m off to a slow start. As of mid-February, when I’m writing this column, I’ve only read three of the 50: Ivan Doig’s The Bartender’s Tale and Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues in fiction, and Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson in nonfiction. If this trio—Doig’s eloquent coming-of-age tale about growing up as the son of a bartender in mid-20th-century Montana; Edugyan’s incredibly rich story of music, politics, and personal betrayal in Weimar Germany; and Caro’s magisterial, near-Shakespearean account of LBJ’s life between 1960 and his assumption of the presidency after JFK’s assassination—is any indication of the quality of the remaining 47 titles (and I’m sure it is), I’m looking forward to some marvelous reading.

So what I am going to read next? Well, I’m likely to start with Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, and not only because it’s about a British spy during the Cold War, a subject and time period I relish. No, it’s mostly because McEwan is one of the most elegant writers I know, and his every sentence is worth savoring. Louise Erdrich is another writer I follow both for style and content. Her latest novel, The Round House, was sitting on my bedside table even before the longlist was announced.

After McEwan and Erdrich, who knows? In fiction, Paul Theroux’s The Lower River, Alice Munro’s Dear Life, and Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies are all calling my name, and in nonfiction, I’m salivating over Ross King’s Leonardo and the Last Supper and Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton.

I have no idea how any of these books will fare in the voting, but I’m going to enjoy reading them, win or lose. If you’re as excited as I am about taking an enormous bite out of the Carnegie Medals for Excellence longlist, check it out on the ALA website, and start reading right away.

BILL OTT is the editor and publisher of ALA’s Booklist.