NEW YORK — Jonathan Franzen is back in the awards circle.
Franzen's "Freedom," among last year's most highly praised novels, is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle awards. Franzen had been bypassed for the National Book Awards, judged by fellow authors, but was an obvious choice for a prize voted on by reviewers, many of whom placed "Freedom" on their annual best-of lists. None of the fiction nominees for the National Book Award, including winner Jaimy Gordon's "Lord of Misrule," was chosen for the critics circle prize.
The 31 nominees in six competitive categories (autobiography has six finalists) announced Saturday were an international blend of popular authors such as Franzen, Christopher Hitchens and Patti Smith and the kind of lesser-known picks critics pride themselves on, such as German-Dutch novelist Hans Keilson, 101 years old, and cited for the acclaimed "Comedy in a Key." Finalists were published by Random House Inc., Simon & Schuster and other major New York houses, and by McSweeney's, Graywolf Press and the Feminist Press.
Winners will be announced March 10. There are no cash prizes.
Nominees also included Jennifer Egan's novel "A Visit From the Goon Squad," Isabel Wilkerson's history "The Warmth of Other Suns" and memoirs by Hitchens ("Hitch-22") and Smith, whose "Just Kids" won an NBA for nonfiction. Books written in foreign languages but available in English translation also are eligible, so fiction finalists besides Egan and Franzen included Keilson and Israel's David Grossman for "To the End of the Land." The fifth nominee was Irish novelist Paul Murray for "Skippy Dies."
The nonfiction choices were Wilkerson, S.C. Gwynne's "Empire of the Summer Moon," Jennifer Homans' ballet history "Apollo's Angels," Barbara Demick's "Nothing to Envy" and Siddhartha Mukherjee's "The Emperor of All Maladies."
Subjects in the biography category included Somerset Maugham, Crazy Horse and Charlie Chan. The finalists were Sarah Bakewell's "How to Live, or a Life of Montaigne"; Selina Hastings' "The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham"; Yunte Huang's "Charlie Chan"; Thomas Powers' "The Killing of Crazy Horse"; and Tom Segev's "Simon Wiesenthal."
Besides Hitchens and Smith, autobiography nominees were Darin Strauss' "Half a Life"; David Dow's "The Autobiography of an Execution"; Rahna Reiko Rizzuto's "Hiroshima in the Morning"; and Kai Bird's "Crossing Mandelbaum Gate."
Former U.S. poet laureate Kay Ryan ("The Best of It") and prize-winning poet-translator Anne Carson ("Nox") were poetry finalists, along with Kathleen Graber's "The Eternal City," Terrance Hayes' "Lighthead" and C.D. Wright's "One with Others."
Finalists for criticism were Terry Castle's "The Professor and Other Writings"; Ander Monson's "Vanishing Point"; Elif Batuman's "The Possessed"; Susan Linfield's "The Cruel Radiance"; and Clare Cavanagh's "Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics."
Two honorary awards will be presented. Parul Sehgal has won the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, while the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award goes to the Dalkey Archive Press.