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National Book Awards: put your money on the poet

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Tonight’s awards could be anybody’s, with the vogue for memoir and essays well represented. But the most vital book comes from an unexpected quarter

You could say that the National Book Awards are a bit like the Golden Globes of the American literary world. They are the first major awards of the season, held in conjunction with a massive fancy dinner where people in expensive outfits get drunk together. There is, still, that crucial difference: no major television network comes to film the pale, sweaty figures that write most of the great books you read all year.

And the NBAs are not really a dress rehearsal for future book awards the way the Golden Globes set up the actor-acceptance-speech season. The National Book Critics’ Circle and the Pulitzer committee tend to go their own way. The NBAs have struggled for years to articulate their own identity in the field, sometimes going with rewarding obscure, under-applauded work and other years rewarding already popular books in order to remain culturally relevant.

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