Thomas Pynchon, the famously private novelist who has avoided reporters for 40 years, is among the five finalists for the National Book Award for fiction.
Pynchon, nominated for The Bleeding Edge, set in New York between the dot-com boom and 9/11, is the most celebrated of an unusually well-known group of finalists for this year's fiction prize. They were announced Wednesday.
He faces competition from Jhumpa Lahiri (The Lowland, about an Indian-American scientist who brings his brother's widow to America), James McBride (The Good Lord Bird, which imagines a young slave joining John Brown's raid) and George Saunders (Tenth of December, a short story collection that deals with sex, class, loss and war).
Three of the finalists have been on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list this year: Lahiri (peaked at No. 9), Saunders (No. 26) and Pynchon (No. 29).
Pynchon would shock the literary world if he attended the black-tie awards ceremony in New York on Nov. 20.
In 1974, when Pynchon won a National Book Award for Gravity's Rainbow, his publisher arranged for "Professor" Irwin Corey, the double-talking comedian, to accept the prize on Pynchon's behalf.
Many of the guests, who didn't know Corey and had never seen Pynchon or even his photograph, assumed it was the novelist himself. It may be hard to top that this year. Pynchon's publisher didn't immediately respond to questions about his plans.
The fifth fiction finalist is Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers, about a young female artist fascinated by speed and motorcycles who gets entangled with a group of Italian radicals.
In the three other categories, the finalists are:
Jill Lepore, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin; Wendy Lower, Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields; George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America; Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832; and Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief.
Young People's Literature:
Kathi Appelt, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp; Cynthia Kadohata, The Thing About Luck; Tom McNeal, Far Far Away; Meg Rosoff, Picture Me Gone; and Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints
Frank Bidart, Metaphysical Dog; Lucie Brock-Broido, Stay, Illusion; Adrian Matejka, The Big Smoke; Matt Rasmussen, Black Aperture; and Mary Szybist, Incarnadine
The National Book Awards, which are supported by the publishing industry, have made a concerted effort in the past few years to attract more attention for the prizes, which some consider the book world's version of the Academy Awards. After criticism the awards had become too high-brow, booksellers and book critics were added to the five-member judging panels that used to be made of of just authors.
For the first time, The Contenders: Excerpts from the 2013 National Book Award Finalists, will be released as a free e-book series that can be downloaded at nationalbook.org.
At the awards ceremony, the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters will be presented to novelist E.L. Doctorow. And Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison will present the Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution to the American Literary Community to poet and memoirist Maya Angelou.