Familiar finalists own a Pulitzer, a MacArthur Fellowship and a previous Book Award between them
A month after releasing longlists of 10 in each of the four competitive categories, the National Book Foundation announced the five remaining writers for fiction, non-fiction, poetry and young people's literature.
Winners receive $10,000 and will be announced at a dinner ceremony in Manhattan on 20 November.
All five fiction nominees are well established, from Pynchon, whose Bleeding Edge is set in Manhattan around the time of the September 11 terrorist attacks; to Lahiri, whose The Lowland was a Booker finalist; to Saunders, whose Tenth of December was the rare short story collection to make bestseller lists. The other finalists are Rachel Kushner, nominated for her highly praised The Flamethrowers, and James McBride, known to millions for The Color of Water and a finalist for The Good Lord Bird.
The non-fiction list features three books by New Yorker staff writers: Lawrence Wright's Scientology investigation Going Clear; George Packer's dire account of contemporary America, The Unwinding; and Jill Lepore's biography of Benjamin Franklin's sister, Jane Franklin, The Book of Ages. Also nominated for nonfiction are Wendy Lower's Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields, and Alan Taylor's The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832.
For poetry, the finalists are Frank Bidart's Metaphysical Dog, Lucie Brock-Broido's Stay, Illusion, Adrian Matejka's The Big Smoke, Matt Rasmussen's Black Aperture, and Mary Szybist's "Incarnadine."
The young people's literature nominees are Kathi Appelt's The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Cynthia Kadohata's The Thing About Luck, Tom McNeal's Far Far Away, Meg Rosoff's Picture Me Gone and Gene Luen Yang's Boxers & Saints, a two-volume graphic novel.
Four of the fiction finalists were published by imprints of the recently merged Penguin Random House, which released 10 of the 20 nominees overall.