Thursday, November 20, 2014

National Book Award Winners

It was a good night to work for Penguin and Farrar, Straus and Giroux last night at the National Book Award ceremony. Penguin books took the honors in fiction and young adult, while FSG walked away the winner in nonfiction and poetry. All four winners are first-time recipients of the award.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Scribner)
Lila by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Redeployment by Phil Klay (Penguin Press)
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf)
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine (Grove Press)

The Winner: Redeployment
My Pick: All the Light We Cannot See
My Runner-up: Station Eleven
Heading into the awards ceremony, I figured it was going to come down to the books by Klay, Doerr and St. John Mandel. All three are on my TBR, though I've read large chunks of the latter two and I've sampled Redeployment. Most of the social media traffic and blogs seemed to favor Doerr and St. John Mandel, though Klay had gotten a lot of attention earlier in the year. All the Light We Cannot See is written in a very lyrical style, while Station Eleven is a wonderfully descriptive take on the well-worn post-apocalyptic genre. Meanwhile, Redeployment is a jarring collection of stories that look at a soldier's life both at war and returning home. Consider the opening paragraph, "We shot dogs. Not by accident. We did it on purpose, and we called it Operation Scooby. I'm a dog person, so I thought about that a lot." Quite the opener for what follows. Much like when The King's Speech won the Oscar in 2010 when I was rooting for Inception and The Social Network, I get why Klay's book won the award, despite not being my first choice. Definitely a worthy winner.

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (Bloomsbury)
The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson (Liveright/Norton)
No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes by Anand Gopal (Metropolitan/Henry Holt)
Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr (Norton)

The Winner: Age of Ambition
My Pick: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
As someone who initially read only nonfiction books when I resumed reading daily as an adult, I thought I had my finger on the pulse after reading or successfully guessing the last two winners (Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers and George Packer's The Unwinding). Apparently, the judges and I didn't see eye-to-eye on the nonfiction side at all this year. My early picks didn't make it onto the shortlist, then the book I thought would win lost out to Osnos' account of modern China. That isn't to say Age of Ambition isn't good, but that it wasn't on my radar at all until the shortlist. And even then, I thought Chast had it. Consider Age of Ambition the newest addition to my TBR list.

Other winners included Louise Gluck for Faithful and Virtuous Night (Poetry) and Jacqueline Woodson for Brown Girl Dreaming (Young People's). Both Gluck and Woodson are huge names in their respective fields, so it's great to see them finally get a National Book Award to add to their already large trophy cases.

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