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National Book Award finalists narrowed

The nation’s most deliberative literary contest just crept one more step closer to the finish line: The number of finalists for the National Book Awards has been cut in half – from 40 to 20.

It’s time to start paying attention.

Jhumpa Lahiri lost out to Eleanor Catton for the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday night, but she survived Wednesday morning’s elimination round for the NBA fiction prize.

The famously reclusive novelist Thomas Pynchon is back among the finalists for the third time. But put your iPhones away – finalists aren’t required to attend the awards ceremony.

Wednesday’s winnowing follows last month’s day-by-day release of 10 titles for each of the four categories – fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young adults.

This year’s new multistep trek toward the Nov. 20 ceremony was designed to honor more books, involve more publishers and excite more readers.

Here’s the complete list of finalists:


“The Flamethrowers,” by Rachel Kushner (Scribner)

“The Lowland,” by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf)

“The Good Lord Bird,” by James McBride (Riverhead)

“Bleeding Edge,” by Thomas Pynchon (Penguin)

“Tenth of December,” by George Saunders (Random House)


“Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin,” by Jill Lepore (Knopf)

“Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields,” by Wendy Lower (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

“The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America,” by George Packer (Farrar Straus Giroux)

“The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832,” by Alan Taylor (Norton)

“Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief,” by Lawrence Wright (Knopf)


“Metaphysical Dog,” by Frank Bidart (FSG)

“Stay, Illusion,” by Lucie Brock-Broido (Knopf)

“The Big Smoke,” by Adrian Matejka (Penguin)

“Black Aperture,” by Matt Rasmussen (Louisiana)

“Incarnadine,” by Mary Szybist (Graywolf)

Young people’s literature

“The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp,” by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum)

“The Thing About Luck,” by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum)

“Far Far Away,” by Tom McNeal (Knopf)

“Picture Me Gone,” by Meg Rosoff (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

“Boxers & Saints,” by Gene Luen Yang (First Second)

At the awards ceremony in New York next month, each winner will receive $10,000, while the other finalists will receive $1,000. As previously announced, E.L. Doctorow will receive the foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and Maya Angelou will receive the Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution to the American Literary Community.

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