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The Books I Thought Would Make the BTBA Longlist . . . But Didn't

Over the past week, I’ve given you a bunch of clues about the fiction and poetry longlists and received a few guesses from readers. I think the closest anyone came was 13 right out of 25, which, to be fair, isn’t that bad.

Well, since the announcements will be here tomorrow—the poetry list will be unveiled at 10am, the fiction at noon—I thought I’d highlight a few of the more interesting titles that didn’t make it. If I had been playing my own BTBA guessing game, I would’ve included all five of these. (Which is how I came up with the BuzzFeed-esque title for this post.)

Anyway, this will blow apart most of the guesses I’ve been receiving, and provide some crucial hints to what actually made it, but whatever. Even though we will spend the next month and a half highlighting 42 of the best books published in 2014, I want to give some love to these five as well.

The Symmetry Teacher by Andrei Bitov, translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon (Russia, FSG)

I’m pretty sure that every single person who sent me a guess for the BTBA fiction longlist included this book—which I too expected to be on the longlist. I mean, Michael Orthofer gave it an A- and he’s one of the judges . . . But, alas. Bitov misses out. Although this is still on top of my “to read as soon as summer hits” pile of books.

Texas: The Great Theft by Carmen Boullosa, translated from the Spanish by Samantha Schnee (Mexico, Deep Vellum)

After winning the Typographical Era Translation Award and being listed on the PEN Translation Prize longlist, it seemed like Texas was a lock for at least the BTBA longlist. But, alas. Only one female Mexican writer made it, and with Boullosa on the outside looking in, that means that the BTBA longlist includes either has Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd or Guadalupe Nettle’s Natural Histories. Tune in tomorrow at noon to find out which one made it!

The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (Germany, New Directions)

With Erpenbeck, Bernofsky, and New Directions involved, I had this penciled in on my personal list of books that would be contending for the overall award. I started reading Erpenbeck when Visitation made the longlist a few years back, and have been loving her ever since. Unfortunately, this book of hers won’t be in the running for the BTBA . . . But she’s young and super-talented and will likely be on the shortlist again in the not-too-distant future. (As will Susan Bernofsky. Every year I expect her to win it all. She’s so damn talented and has such great taste in picking projects.)

My Struggle: Book Three by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Norway, Archipelago Books)

Given the sheer amount of space the New York Times and New Yorker have given over to Knausgaard, you’d think that this would be a shoe-in. But you would be wrong! If Knausgaard’s going to win the award, it will have to be for books four, five, or six . . . Personally, all this attention has been turning me against the man. I like his books (although I prefer A Time for Everything), but I don’t think he’s the greatest writer of his generation or any of that other garbage. Just speculating, but this media darling overkill crap may have worked against the BTBA judges as well.

Writers by Antoine Volodine, translated from the French by Katina Rogers (France, Dalkey Archive)

This was another trendy pick for the longlist, with almost every entry including it. Volodine’s reputation is about to explode (see this New Inquiry essay), but if he’s going to have any BTBA success, it’s going to have to come from one of the three books of his that Open Letter is bringing out. He’s a challenging, strange author who is obsessed with literary games and the form of the novel—two things that the BTBA awards tend to reward. We shall see when the 2016, 2017, and 2018 lists are revealed!

There we go. All the build-up and clues are over. Now it’s time to reveal which books actually made the longlists. See you tomorrow!



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