Is your Kindle finger itching? Do you have a yearning to go to the bookstore or library but don’t know what sounds good? Well, maybe this will help. Last night, this year’s National Book Awards were announced. Here is the complete list of winners and finalists.
James McBride took the fiction prize for his novel The Good Lord Bird (Riverhead Books/Penguin Group USA):
Abolitionist John Brown calls her “Little Onion,” but her real name is Henry. A slave in Kansas mistaken for a girl due to the sackcloth smock he was wearing when Brown shot his master, the light-skinned, curly-haired 12-year-old ends up living as a young woman, most often encamped with Brown’s renegade band of freedom warriors as they traverse the country, raising arms and ammunition for their battle against slavery. Though they travel to Rochester, New York, to meet with Frederick Douglass and Canada to enlist the help of Harriet Tubman, Brown and his ragtag army fail to muster sufficient support for their mission to liberate African Americans, heading inexorably to the infamously bloody and pathetic raid on Harpers Ferry. Starred Review, Booklist –Carol Haggas
Finalists for the prize included:
The winner for non-fiction is George Packer for The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
It was a good morning for author Louise Erdrich, as she was announced the recipient of 2012’s National Book Award for her novel The Round House. Like much of Erdrich’s other work (Love Medicine, The Red Convertible), The Round House concerns the life of a Native American family in crisis and a culture in jeopardy.
The Round House is the story of a crime. Geraldine Coutts, an Ojibwe woman living on a reservation, is attacked. Neither her husband, Bazil, nor her thirteen-year-old son, Joe, were present when she was assaulted. Geraldine will not tell them who did it or or why; nor will she tell the police. Although Joe desperately tries to get her to tell him, or anyone, what happened, Geraldine refuses. She will not even leave her bed. Essentially motherless, Joe is left to fend for himself, although he is far from ready for the weight of adult responsibilities.
Joe’s father, Bazil, is a tribal judge but justice moves too slowly for the teenager. He begins his own investigation which ultimately leads him to the “Round House,” a sacred place of worship where, eventually, secrets are revealed.
Speculation about who would win this year was a bit more contentious than in years past, as there were many strong contenders, both critically and popularly. One of those considered a good bet was Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her. Nine stories intertwine, but at the center is Yunior,
a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own.
While Diaz is undoubtedly disappointed by his loss, he certainly has a lot to console him, as this year, the 44-year-old writer was given a MacArthur Fellowship. You can listen to an interview with Diaz about that prestigious appointment here.
A long shot, but a strong critical and popular favorite was not a novel but a memoir. The Boy Kings of Texas is about the experiences of Domingo Martinez as he grew up in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. The book is
Partly a reflection on the culture of machismo and partly an exploration of the author’s boyhood spent in his sister’s hand-me-down clothes, The Boy Kings of Texas delves into the enduring and complex bond between Martinez and his deeply flawed but fiercely protective older brother, Daniel, and features a cast of memorable characters. Charming, painful and enlightening, this book examines the traumas and pleasures of growing up in South Texas and the often terrible consequences when two very different cultures collide on the banks of a dying river.
One of the stories from the work was featured in a must-listen segment of last week’s episode of This American Life. You can listen to the full episode here, or queue it up to Act III to hear Martinez read “Mimis in the Middle.” In another episode of the autobiography, the 13-year-old Domingo is a helpless passenger in his mother’s car as she and Domingo follow his father, who is driving a truck full of marijuana, all of them hoping they do not get caught.
Christmas is coming up, you know. How about adding one of these, or all three, to your wish list?