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National Book Award winners, a daily dose

July 31, 2009 |  2:54 pm


Who could resist William Holden? Certainly not Binx Bolling, the main character of Walker Percy's "The Moviegoer." Partway through its months-long celebration of every winner of the National Book Award for fiction, the National Book Foundation has two authors weigh in on Percy's novel, which took the award in 1962.

Sara Zarr writes of the illuminating correspondence between Shelby Foote, already a successful author, and the still-unpublished Percy. When he sent him the manuscript for "The Moviegoer," she writes,

Foote approved, particularly praising a bit where the narrator, Binx Bolling, muses about actor William Holden:

I pay attention to all spot announcements on the radio about mental health, the seven signs of cancer, and safe driving -- though, as I say, I prefer to ride the bus. Yesterday a favorite of mine, William Holden, delivered a radio announcement on litterbugs. “Let’s face it,” said Holden. “Nobody can do anything about it -- but you and me.” This is true. I have been careful ever since.

To Bolling, Holden could be very persuasive. Tom Roberge adds:

[Bolling] represents what has become something of a literary tradition: a man who’s passively accepted what his life has become. He decided long ago that the well-to-do New Orleans society he was born into offers him no real pleasure, and he harbors a strong urge to abandon it all, but knows full well that he won’t. . . . This is honest escapism, a need to plunge into the tidy worlds of heroes, villains, and bombshells that films offer.

1961-62 was a good time for fiction; Percy beat out "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller, "Revolutionary Road" by Richard Yates, J. D. Salinger's "Franny & Zooey" and seven other finalists for the honor.

The National Book Foundation is continuing to post about its fiction winners and then will hold a popularity runoff between them, as a lead-up to November's National Book Awards.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: William Holden with Maggie McNamara in 1953's "The Moon is Blue." Credit: UCLA Arts Library Special Collections