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'Goon Squad' and 'The Big Short' win L.A. Times Book Prizes

Jennifer Egan's novel takes the fiction category and Michael Lewis' saga of the financial meltdown gets the non-fiction nod. Children's author Beverly Cleary is given the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement.

April 30, 2011|By Kim Christensen, Los Angeles Times
  • Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer-winning novel "A Visit From the Goon Squad" and Michael Lewis' "The Big Short," which tells the story of savvy investors who foresaw the financial meltdown and cashed in on it, were among the winners Friday at the 31st annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.
Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer-winning novel "A Visit From the Goon… (Jennifer S. Altman / For…)

Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer-winning novel "A Visit From the Goon Squad" and Michael Lewis' "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine," which tells the story of savvy investors who foresaw the financial meltdown and cashed in on it, were among the winners Friday at the 31st annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.

The awards to Egan in the fiction category and to Lewis in current interest were among a dozen handed out in a ceremony at The Times' Harry Chandler Auditorium, kicking off the Festival of Books this weekend at the University of Southern California.

More than 400 authors will participate in readings, signings, panel discussions, musical performances and other events at the festival, which runs through Sunday and moved to USC after 15 years at UCLA. Some 150,000 are expected to attend this year.

Lewis, whose competition included another book on the financial crisis and three on topics as varied as President Obama's first year in office, the war in Afghanistan and singer Patti Smith's memoir of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, made his acceptance speech by video.

"Good night, and may all of your speeches be short," he said at the end, eliciting laugher from the packed auditorium.

Peter Bognanni, who won the Art Seidenbaum Award for first fiction, quipped that he was pleasantly surprised to learn that writers qualify to be picked up at the airport by drivers "with those special cards" waiting for their fares. He also encouraged would-be novelists.

"In order to do it, you have to challenge yourself … to write something that no one but your wife and/or your mother will ever read," he said.

This year's book prizes marked a couple of firsts in the competition, which honors extraordinary literary accomplishment in 12 categories.

Beverly Cleary became the first children's author to win the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement, and Powell's Books, the first bookstore ever honored, won the Innovator's Award, which spotlights cutting-edge business models, technology or applications of narrative art.

Cleary was cited as "a revolutionary figure" for the impact of her first novel, "Henry Huggins." Published in 1950, it displayed a "clear-cut, but radical agenda: to write directly and movingly for kids." She also is the author of "Beezus and Ramona," "The Mouse and the Motorcycle," and dozens of other books.

"If I don't enjoy what I'm writing I put it in the wastebasket," Cleary, in her mid-90s, said in a video presentation. "Because if I don't enjoy writing it, why would anybody enjoy reading it?"

Powell's Books, a Portland, Ore., landmark founded in 1971, was noted for being "an innovator all along." It was one of the first retailers to embrace online bookselling and was cited by the judges for "creating a cohesive strategy that makes books available for readers in whatever way they prefer."

Other 2010 Book Prize winners:

• Biography: Laura Hillenbrand, "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience & Redemption" (Random House)

• Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction: Peter Bognanni, "The House of Tomorrow" (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam)

• Graphic Novel: Adam Hines, "Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One" (AdHouse Books)

• History: Thomas Powers, "The Killing of Crazy Horse" (Knopf)

• Mystery-Thriller: Tom Franklin, "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter" (William Morrow)

• Poetry: Maxine Kumin, "Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010" (W. W. Norton & Company)

• Science & Technology: Oren Harman, "The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness" (W. W. Norton & Company)

• Young Adult Literature: Megan Whalen Turner, "A Conspiracy of Kings" (Greenwillow/HarperCollins)

A complete list of 2010 finalists and past winners, as well as eligibility and judging information can be found at http://www.latimesbookprizes.com.

kim.christensen@latimes.com

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