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National Book Award Winner Announced

National Book Award

The National Book Awards were announced November 16, and Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad is the Fiction winner.  I predicted the win, although my prediction wasn’t posted anywhere (ed: She did actually predict that, but I didn’t get it posted in time…can’t believe she’s still mad about that), so it probably doesn’t count!  It has enjoyed a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list for many weeks, and will probably climb higher on the list after this week’s announcement.



The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad in Whitehead’s novel is not just a series of safe houses and passages for runaway slaves to get to the North, but also an actual railroad. Cora enters the train from an underground station, really a subway, and subtly travels through time as she crosses state lines. She comes into lands where black Americans have more opportunities and prosperity, but she is constantly pursued by those who would take her back into slavery, thus making it fast paced and thrilling. One slave catcher sums up the American character: “Here was the true Great Spirit, the divine thread connecting all human endeavor — if you can keep it, it is yours. Your property, slave or continent. The American imperative.” If you are looking for something new and different to read, dive right in to The Underground Railroad.

The other novels shortlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction:


The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder

A book about football is on the National Book Award shortlist? Really? Football is the glue that holds it together when 22 men gather once a year to re-enact the 1985 Giants football game in which linebacker Lawrence Taylor accidentally shattered Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann’s leg during a tackle, ending his career. Intrigued?

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

The plot is a bit of a combination of True Grit by Charles Portis and The Searchers by Alan LeMay. Captain Kidd’s life changes drastically one day on a trip to Wichita Falls when he agrees to take ten year old Johanna, who had been captured by the Kiowa and raised by them since she was six, and return her to her aunt and uncle near San Antonio. The 400-mile trip is full of danger and adventure, including floods and swollen rivers, threats from Indians, and a shootout with some very bad men. But what makes this novel special is the relationship that develops between Captain Kidd and young Johanna. Johanna has forgotten everything about her life before the Kiowa took her; she speaks no English, and is terrified of white people. Throughout the journey Johanna comes to regard Captain Kidd as her honored grandfather, and he comes to love her as his own. This might be the best book I’ve read this year, and I highly recommend it.

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

In 1996, a small bomb goes off in a marketplace in Delhi, killing, among others, two little boys. The friend who’s with them survives. The novel tracks the fallout from the explosion, watching as it slowly and steadily ruins the lives of the survivors, the victims’ families, and the perpetrators.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

August remembers in a dreamlike style growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s with her best girlfriends, who believed that anything was possible and the world was full of possibilities.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

They say “third time’s a charm,” and three years after the Man Booker Prize was opened up to all novels written in English and published in the UK, including even Americans, we finally have a winner: Paul Beatty with The Sellout. Although not a big bestseller, and not exactly my favorite read, I am glad Paul Beatty and his dark satire took the British prize. It previously won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and has received good reviews. The Sellout is a searing satire on race relations in contemporary America, described by The New York Times as a ‘metaphorical multicultural pot almost too hot to touch’, and the Wall Street Journal called it a ‘Swiftian satire of the highest order. Like someone shouting fire in a crowded theatre, Mr. Beatty has whispered “Racism” in a postracial world.’ Amanda Foreman, chair of the judges defended their choice as simply ‘the best book of 2016’. When asked what ‘best’ meant she defined it as a combination of attributes: ‘Aesthetic, quality and depth of ideas, craftsmanship of writing, and whether the novel transports the reader.’

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