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Faces we watched in 2010: Where they are now

December 30, 2010 |  5:43 pm


This Sunday, we select five literary types to watch in 2011. Last year, we picked four. Were you watching? Lots were. This is where they are now.

Rebecca Skloot's book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" came out in February. Maybe you've heard about it: The nonfiction work explores the unknown story of Lacks, her cells and the family she left behind. The remarkable book was selected by Amazon.com's editors as the top book of the year, made best-of lists at many newspapers (including this one), won the Wellcome Trust Book Prize and has been optioned by Oprah and Allan Ball for HBO. Haven't read it yet? Don't worry, it'll be released in paperback in March 2011.

Like Skloot, critic Elif Batuman had published short pieces, but 2010 saw the release of her first book. "The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them" comprises seven essays that merge criticism, personal experience and scholarship. It was singled out as one of the best nonfiction books of the year by both the popular newspaper USA Today and by New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead. Batuman has a knack for tickling the literary zeitgeist: Her review of Marc McGurl's "The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing" in the London Review of Books launched a fleet of online debates about MFA programs, McGurl's version and Batuman's slant on them both.

Writing a philosophical book about the idea of the Sabbath might not seem the most direct way to get on TV, but it's worked for Judith Shulevitz. Her 2010 book, "The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time," part history, part meditation, unexpectedly propelled the cultural critic onto CNN and Stephen Colbert. She's also turned up in places more expected -- NPR, the pages of major newspaper book reviews -- but Shulevitz, the third of our 2010 faces to watch, is the rare cultural voice that can make a deep subject accessible through not-so-deep mediums.

Novelist Sam Lipsyte rounded out our faces to watch picks of 2010. After struggling to bring his wickedly funny novel "Home Land" to shelves -- it was published in England before the U.S. -- Lipsyte landed premium publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux for his next novel, 2010's "The Ask." The Village Voice described "The Ask" as "corrosive, obscene, unpleasantly hilarious"; Bookslut found it "hilarious and bleak"; Slate calls him "a fine microbrewer of bitterness." Lipsyte's novel was the kind of edgy book that set some people who read it on edge; others, however, are still laughing.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Henrietta Lacks in 1945; author Rebecca Skloot. Credit: Crown Publishers / Random House