Robert Caro, Junot Diaz and the late Anthony Shadid were among the finalists announced Wednesday for the National Book Awards.
Other nominees included the novelists Dave Eggers and Louise Erdrich and nonfiction writers Anne Applebaum and Katherine Boo. Twenty authors, five each in four competitive categories, were picked. The winners will be announced Nov. 14 at a ceremony hosted by the commentator and performer Faith Salie.
Major New York publishers have complained in recent years that such high-profile books as Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom" and Jeffrey Eugenides' "The Marriage Plot" have been overlooked in favor of more obscure titles. But this year's picks include some of the most talked about literary works of 2012, fromthe fourth of his epic Lyndon Johnson series; to Diaz's "This is How You Lose Her," a series of stories about love; to "Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity," widely praised as a masterpiece of nonfiction narrative.
The nominees include five Pulitzer Prize winners (Caro, Shadid and Anne Applebaum among them), a National Book Award winner (Caro) and two MacArthur "genius" grant recipients,. Judges also picked five debut books, including ," which some critics have cited as a rare major novel about the Iraq war; and Domingo Martinez's "The Boy Kings of Texas," a memoir. Panels of fellow writers that change each year choose the awards.
The NBAs are administered by the nonprofit National Book Foundation, which has long sought to strike a balance between making the awards a mark of literary excellence and of popular appeal. Past hosts of the ceremony have included Steve Martin and Garrison Keillor and this year's picks were revealed Wednesday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
Book foundation executive director Harold Augenbraum said that no changes were made in the selection process, but that extra steps were added to prevent a fiasco like in 2011, when a miscommunication between judges and the foundation led to Lauren Myracle's being mistakenly announced as a young people's literature finalist. Her nomination was then withdrawn, a humiliation for the author and an embarrassment for the awards.
"When the panel chair called in we asked for author, title, and publisher," Augenbraum said of this year's process. "Then we pulled our copies of the books, checked the information, and then later a different staff person called the panel chair back to verify all the information."
The fiction finalists were Diaz, Powers, Eggers ("A Hologram for the King"), Erdrich ("The Round House") and Ben Fountain, for "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk." Besides Caro, Martinez and Boo, nonfiction nominees were Applebaum for "Iron Curtain" and Shadid for the memoir "House of Stone." Shadid, a New York Times foreign correspondent who previously worked for the Washington Post and The Associated Press,in February at age 43.
In poetry, the finalists were David Ferry's "Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations," Cynthia Huntington's "Heavenly Bodies," Tim Seibles's "Fast Animal," Alan Shapiro's "Night of the Republic" and Susan Wheeler's "Meme."
The young people's literature finalists: William Alexander's "Goblin Secrets," Carrie Arcos's "Out of Reach," Patricia McCormick's "Never Fall Down," Eliot Schrefer's "Endangered" and Steve Sheinkin's "Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon."
Judges looked through nearly 1,300 books, including 479 nonfiction works and 311 for fiction.
See the full list of nominees here.