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Kirkus Prize: The nominees for the first-ever awards have been announced

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(Read caption) 'Florence Gordon' and 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century' are two of the books nominated for Kirkus Prizes.

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The prestigious book review journal Kirkus Reviews announced the 18 finalists for its first-ever Kirkus Prizes, to be awarded to best books in fiction, nonfiction, and young readers’ literature.

The three prizes each come with a $50,000 award, making this one of the most financially lucrative literary prizes to date. By comparison, the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize each come with a $10,000 award. Winners in each category will be announced before the Texas Book Festival in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 23. 

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Among the finalists are Thomas Piketty for “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” Roz Chast for “Can’t we Talk About Something More Pleasant,” Sarah Waters for “The Paying Guests,” Dinaw Mengestu for “All Our Names,” and Siri Hustvedt for “The Blazing World.” 

Books must receive a starred review – a rare honor in itself – to be eligible for the Kirkus Prize. Eligible books are then brought before a panel of judges, such as author Sloane Crosley, who told NPR that in the award’s inaugural year, it was the judges’ responsibility to “set the tenor” of the annual prize.

"We looked for topical variety and stellar writing, books that were wall-to-wall with research, often groundbreaking research, that told their stories in a fascinating way," she told NPR. "Or books that were heartfelt and human but also filled with all the information needed to make us feel like we got the fullest story and the best possible delivery of that story." 

But amidst so many awards – from the better known Pulitzer, Man Booker, Newbury, PEN, and National Book Awards to the lesser known Quill, Spur, Hugo, Bancroft, and Pushcart Prizes – does the publishing world really need another literary prize?

The Washington Post’s Ron Charles doesn’t seem to think so. 

“Who won this year’s Chautauqua Prize? How about the George Washington Prize or the Bellwether Prize? Can you name a single Spur, Lammy or RITA winner?” he asked in a recent piece. “I didn’t think so.”

“At a time when even the National Book Awards struggle for attention, is there room for yet another literary prize on an already crowded shelf of honors?” 

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He pointed out that few finalists, and in some cases, winners, of prestigious awards receive a sales boost from their recognition. 

No matter. Despite the more than 100 literary prizes awarded in the US each year, Kirkus Reviews is betting its prestigious name – and a hefty cash prize – will help its award rise to the top.

Finalists for the Kirkus Prize are as follows:

Fiction: 

Siri Hustvedt, "The Blazing World" (Simon & Schuster)
Lily King, "Euphoria" (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Dinaw Mengestu, "All Our Names" (Knopf)
Brian Morton, "Florence Gordon" (Houghton Mifflin)
Bill Roorbach, "The Remedy for Love" (Algonquin Books)
Sarah Waters, "The Paying Guests" (Riverhead)

Nonfiction:

Roz Chast, "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?" (Bloomsbury)
Leo Damrosch, "Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World" (Yale University Press)
Elizabeth Kolbert, "The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History" (Holt)
Armand Marie Leroi, "The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science" (Viking)
Thomas Piketty, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" (Harvard University Press)
Bryan Stevenson, "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption" (Spiegel & Grau)

Young readers’ literature: 

Picture books:
Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet, "The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus" (Eerdmans)
Kate Samworth, "Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual" (Clarion)
Middle grade:
Cece Bell, "El Deafo" (Amulet/Abrams)
Jack Gantos, "The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Young adult:
E. K. Johnston, "The Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim" (Carolrhoda Lab)
Don Mitchell, "The Freedom Summer Murders" (Scholastic)

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.