The siren song of National Bitching About the National Book Award Week is welling up from the book-nerd orchestra pit. Today's mark? The non-fiction list.

As I have said before, and will say again, literary prizes are by and large marketing tools and engines for light cocktail party conversation. Their relationship to literary merit is occasionally dubious because subjective taste and petty interpersonal gripes get in the way. But that is exactly why it is inexcusable to see a shortlist like this:

Roz Chast, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

John Demos, The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic

Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes

Nigel Hamilton, The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941 - 1942

Walter Isaacson, The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

John Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh

Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China

Ronald C. Rosbottom, When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944

Matthew Stewart, Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic

Edward O. Wilson, The Meaning of Human Existence

Hint: There are nine men on the list and only one woman. Which is ridiculous; 2014 saw more than one good nonfiction book written by a woman.

Also, look, Roz Chast is exceedingly talented, but lumping her in with general nonfiction is odd. She is a graphic artist. And graphic artists' books should probably have their own longlist by now, so that at least there is some pretense of it being judged against books of its own genre.

As for books comprised entirely of prose (and the occasional picture section) there is one absolutely glaring omission: Leslie Jamison's The Empathy Exams, a book of "serious" essays that actually managed to hit the bestseller list. Jamison knocked it out of the park, though admittedly she wasn't writing about what this list appears to indicate are the Hot Topics of today: World War II, presidents, and foreign policy. Because FDR is always more relevant that women's issues. Or maybe the judges have something against essays, who knows.

The point is that, ideally, literary prizes should strike a bargain between bringing attention to excellent books that have failed to find an audience, and actually reflecting the culture of books as it is. This list doesn't have that flavor. Instead it reads like a list made by people who are desperate to make a "serious" list about Important Topics, without managing to read widely and eclectically in doing so. What a shame.