There are things to be said about this year's National Book Award nominations—namely, about the nefarious exclusion of Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated from the list, and about the surely accidental inclusion of a book that no one's ever heard of: Three Junes by Julia Glass, whose cover resembles, at its best, Maeve Binchy at her worst. We ventured to our local book retailer last week for the specific purpose of procuring Glass' now short-listed literary debut but, upon seeing it (we are staunchly of the judge-by-its-cover school), vomited so copiously and with such force across the dust jacket (said dust jacket features a wistful, emetic depiction of a picnic table in an out-of-focus garden, and is now appliqu餠with a Good Morning America Read This! sticker), and our vomit (composed of one egg salad sandwich and a cup of bean soup) came forth so unexpectedly and with such projection, that we also unwittingly saturated a significant portion of the store's stock of Jean Genet, Andre Gide, Arthur Golden, William Golding, Nadine Gordimer, Gnter Grass, and Graham Greene—as well as David Guterson, whose work has surely been vomited upon before. In our embarrassment for having doused our feet, the floor, and three Nobel Prize winners, we made haste in our departure; decidedly not leaving with Julia Glass' Three Junes, for we would rather have left with a colossal ceramic knickknack.
And while we do extend a measure of respect, for taking care to consider obscure titles, to the 2002 National Book Award fiction judges—Jay McInerney, Bob Shacochis, Adrienne Brodeur, David Wong Louie, and Jacquelyn Mitchard—we do wonder: (1) Who the hell are Bob Shacochis, Adrienne Brodeur, and David Wong Louie?; (2) Why is The Deep End of the Ocean author Jacquelyn Mitchard allowed to judge the writing of anyone else?; and (3) Have these judges (who decide the winner next week) gone too far in excluding Foer's Everything Is Illuminated, Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, and Donna Tartt's The Little Friend, just for the sake of off-the-beaten-trail-ness?
We think, as long as obscure books are getting their go this year, that Gina Ochsner's The Necessary Grace to Fall should have been nominated, and we would go to lengths to tell you why except, for some reason, it's taken us quite some time to arrive at that singular point and it would take at least a commensurate space to justify it, and commensurate space, as this column is more than halfway through, we plainly do not have.
In keeping with the rest of this column, then—we will have to address the Ochsner book next week; please have it read by that point—we will now distract you further and even more obscurely with items of mailed-in interest, because we have in turn, in the composition of this column, suddenly been distracted by the day's mail, whose book-shaped parcels presently include Gettin' Buck Wild: Sex Chronicles II, a biography of Condoleeza Rice hilariously titled Condi, and Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants Survival Guide, containing step-by-step advice for such situations as "How to Motivate a Starfish" (first step: "Be really clear about what you want the starfish to do"). While we'd be happy to consider this volume's National Book Award worthiness, we (again, thwarted at every opportunity for the development of an idea) have not the space.