On Thursday, November 15, the National Book Award winners were announced in New York, in a ceremony hosted by Nick Offerman. In addition, writer Luís Alberto Urrea presented the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Isabel Allende, saying in his presentation that “Isabel is calling us to believe in words of love, words of witness. You can’t build a wall to keep them out. You can’t lock them up. She has taught us that words have wings. They fly over barriers, and they sing all over the globe.” Hidden Figures author Margot Lee Shetterly presented Doron Weber with the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. Weber is the vice president and program director for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation,which runs a program for Public Understanding of Science, Technology & Economics, which supports projects that bridge science and the arts (check out the link–it’s a pretty amazing place!).
Then came the announcement of the Winners of National Book Awards in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature. We are pleased to list the winners below, with links to their NOBLE catalog entries. Come into the Library and check out these award-winning books for yourself!
Over the summer, we discussed the PBS’ eight-part series, The Great American Read, which explored and celebrated the power of reading, told through the prism of America’s 100 best-loved novels (as chosen in a national survey). Today, we are pleased to share the results of this nationwide survey and study of literature.
In order to obtain the most representative and encompassing list, PBS and the producers worked with the public opinion polling service “YouGov” to conduct a demographically and statistically representative survey asking Americans to name their most-loved novel. Approximately 7,200 people participated. From that survey, a list was developed that included books from the 1600s to 2016, genres from thrillers to young adult novels, from sci-fi/fantasy and adventure to historical fiction.
One of the best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than forty million copies worldwide, served as the basis for an enormously popular motion picture, and voted one of the best novels of the twentieth century by librarians across the country. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father—a crusading local lawyer—risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.
To Kill a Mockingbird led The Great American Read voting from the first week, and kept the lead for the entire five months of voting, despite strong competition from the rest of our five finalists. It also topped the list of votes in every state except North Carolina (who went for Outlander) and Wyoming (who preferred Lord of The Rings). Such widespread support from readers across the country make To Kill a Mockingbird a worthy winner of The Great American Read.
Did you watch this series? Did you vote? Are you participating in reading the books on the Great American Read list? If so, come in and let us know! And, as ever, our hearts and our thanks are with Harper Lee, for giving us a book that brought together nearly all of the country.
We’d like to take a moment to congratulate Northern Irish author Anna Burns, who was awarded the 50th Annual Man Booker Prize on October 16 for her novel Milkman! Burns becomes the first Northern Irish author to win the award, and the first female winner since 2013, when Eleanor Catton took the award with The Luminaries.
Burns drew on her memories of living through The Troubles in Northern Ireland to craft a story about middle sister in an unnamed city as she navigates her way through rumor, social pressures and politics in a tight-knit community. Burns shows the dangerous and complex outcome that can happen to a woman coming of age in a city at war.
None of us has ever read anything like this before. Anna Burns’ utterly distinctive voice challenges conventional thinking and form in surprising and immersive prose. It is a story of brutality, sexual encroachment and resistance threaded with mordant humour. Set in a society divided against itself, Milkman explores the insidious forms oppression can take in everyday life.
Milkman also spoke to the concerns of today, Appiah reflected. as quoted by The Guardian, he noted, “I think this novel will help people think about #MeToo … It is to be commended for giving us a deep and subtle and morally and intellectually challenging picture of what #MeToo is about.”
In addition to her prize money and public recognition, the Royal Mail is issuing a congratulatory postmark featuring the winner’s name, which will be applied to millions of items of stamped mail nationwide for six days from 17 October. It will read ‘Congratulations to Anna Burns, winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize’.
We here at the Free For All would like to add our congratulations to Anna Burns. Milkman will shortly be available in the US, and we cannot wait to get our hands on it!
As we reported here in September, there will be no Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018. Following a series of cover-ups, discrediting disclosures and allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, the board was taking a hiatus. In its place, a New Academy organized to award an Alternative Nobel this year, with input from the public.
Today, we are delighted to announce that Guatemalan author Maryse Condé has been awarded the 2018 Alternative Nobel prize!
The author of some 20 novels, Condé is renown for providing a voice for those who have been silenced by politics, poverty, and history. The chair of judges Ann Pålsson noted of her contribution to literature, “She describes the ravages of colonialism and the post-colonial chaos in a language which is both precise and overwhelming…The dead live in her stories closely to the living in a … world where gender, race and class are constantly turned over in new constellations.”
As reported by The Guardian, Condé said she was “very happy and proud” to win the award. “But please allow me to share it with my family, my friends and above all the people of Guadeloupe, who will be thrilled and touched seeing me receive this prize,” she said. “We are such a small country, only mentioned when there are hurricanes or earthquakes and things like that. Now we are so happy to be recognised for something else.”
Conde will win about £87,000 raised from crowdfunding and donations, and will receive the prize at a ceremony on 9 December, one day before the Nobel banquet.
It is our honor to congratulate Maryse Condé on her award, and thank her for a lifetime of stories, honest, and compassion.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict…Each of them in their own way has helped to give greater visibility to war-time sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions.
The physician Denis Mukwege has spent large parts of his adult life helping the victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since the Panzi Hospital was established in Bukavu in 1999, Dr. Mukwege and his staff have treated thousands of patients who have fallen victim to such assaults. Most of the abuses have been committed in the context of a long-lasting civil war that has cost the lives of more than six million Congolese.
Nadia Murad is herself a victim of war crimes. She refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected. She has shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and speaking up on behalf of other victims.
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize is firmly embedded in the criteria spelled out in Alfred Nobel’s will. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad have both put their personal security at risk by courageously combating war crimes and seeking justice for the victims. They have thereby promoted the fraternity of nations through the application of principles of international law.
You can read more about both of these remarkable human beings on the Nobel Peace Prize Committee’s website. There is little we can add here, except for our thanks to Dr. Mukwege and Ms. Murad for all they have done, all they will continue to do, and for the inspiration they provide to others.
Waiting for Eden: Elliot Ackerman is a veteran himself, and his experiences add real depth and emotion to his novel, a National Book Award Finalist, about a veteran coping with the overwhelming challenge of returning home. Eden Malcom lies in a bed, unable to move or to speak, imprisoned in his own mind, covered in burns and existing on life support. His wife Mary spends every day on the sofa in his hospital room. He has never even met their young daughter. And he will never again see the friend and fellow soldier who didn’t make it back home–and who narrates the novel while awaiting his journey to whatever afterlife awaits. But on Christmas, the one day Mary is not at his bedside, Eden’s re-ordered consciousness comes flickering alive. As he begins to find a way to communicate, some troubling truths about his marriage–and about his life before he went to war–come to the surface. Is Eden the same man he once was? Who is there to tell him who he truly is? This is a profound and moving novel that centers on a small-scale story, while making big, important claims about the world around the characters–and around the readers, as well. As the Washington Post wrote in their review, this is: “A classic triangle story of love and friendship, a ghost story, a captivity narrative, and a study of human endurance . . . all of it easily read in one sitting . . . Ackerman’s novel quietly suggests that America itself is a ghost story, and we are all in the act of waiting for Eden.”
The Shakespeare Requirement:If anyone else out there thought that Julie Schumacher’s first novel, Dear Committee Members, was one of the most darkly funny, cathartic novels in recent memory, then get ready for another novel about the ins, outs, ups, and downs of reality in academia, told with Schumacker’s unflinching eye for quirky detail. Now is the fall of his discontent, as Jason Fitger, newly appointed chair of the English Department of Payne University, takes arms against a sea of troubles, personal and institutional. His ex-wife is sleeping with the dean who must approve whatever modest initiatives he undertakes. The fearsome department secretary Fran clearly runs the show (when not taking in rescue parrots and dogs) and holds plenty of secrets she’s not sharing. The lavishly funded Econ Department keeps siphoning off English’s meager resources and has taken aim at its remaining office space. And Fitger’s attempt to get an antediluvian Shakespeare scholar to retire backfires spectacularly when the press concludes that the Bard is being kicked to the curricular curb. Schumacher writes acidic satire, with zero tolerance for hypocrisy, and an absolutely delightful sense of humor that has to be read to be believed. Kirkus Reviews gave this sensational book a starred review, noting, “”Schumacher abandons the epistolary style of her previous novel for a straight narrative but retains all of its acid satire in a sequel that is far more substantive and just as funny… A witty but kindhearted academic satire that oscillates between genuine compassion and scathing mockery with admirable dexterity.”
Kill the Queen: The first novel in Jennifer Estep’s Crown of Shards epic fantasy series is a sure-fire treat for Game of Thrones fans looking for a new series to savor. In a realm where one’s magical power determines one’s worth, Lady Everleigh’s lack of obvious ability relegates her to the shadows of the royal court of Bellona, a kingdom steeped in gladiator tradition. Seventeenth in line for the throne, Evie is nothing more than a ceremonial fixture, overlooked and mostly forgotten. But dark forces are at work inside the palace. When her cousin Vasilia, the crown princess, assassinates her mother the queen and takes the throne by force, Evie is also attacked, along with the rest of the royal family. Luckily for Evie, her secret immunity to magic helps her escape the massacre. Forced into hiding to survive, she falls in with a gladiator troupe. Though they use their talents to entertain and amuse the masses, the gladiators are actually highly trained warriors skilled in the art of war, especially Lucas Sullivan, a powerful magier with secrets of his own. Uncertain of her future—or if she even has one—Evie begins training with the troupe until she can decide her next move. But as the bloodthirsty Vasilia exerts her power, pushing Bellona to the brink of war, Evie’s fate becomes clear: she must become a fearsome gladiator herself . . . and kill the queen. Booklist hailed the arrival of this series’ opener, noting “Estep starts an exciting new fantasy series full of magic, fierce women, and revenge.”
Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future:Mary Robinson was the first female president of the Republic of Ireland, and is now the UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, and as such, this slim work is powerful indeed. Since 2003, Robinson has been traveling the world to raise awareness of, and investigate the realities of climate change. Mary Robinson’s mission would lead her all over the world, from Malawi to Mongolia, and to a heartening revelation: that an irrepressible driving force in the battle for climate justice could be found at the grassroots level, mainly among women, many of them mothers and grandmothers like herself. From Sharon Hanshaw, the Mississippi matriarch whose campaign began in her East Biloxi hair salon and culminated in her speaking at the United Nations, to Constance Okollet, a small farmer who transformed the fortunes of her ailing community in rural Uganda, Robinson met with ordinary people whose resilience and ingenuity had already unlocked extraordinary change. Library Journal gave this remarkable book a starred review, explaining that “Robinson puts a human face on this politically charged issue, adding to the climate change conversation. Highly recommended.”
The Tango War: The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds and Riches of Latin America During World War II:Mary Jo McConahay fills an important gap in our understanding of the Second World War with this view of Latin America, and how all the combatant nations of the world attempted to gain influence and power in the area. The fight was often dirty: residents were captured to exchange for U.S. prisoners of war and rival spy networks shadowed each other across the continent. Though the Allies triumphed, at the war’s inception it looked like the Axis would win. A flow of raw materials in the Southern Hemisphere, at a high cost in lives, was key to ensuring Allied victory, as were military bases supporting the North African campaign, the Battle of the Atlantic and the invasion of Sicily, and fending off attacks on the Panama Canal. Allies secured loyalty through espionage and diplomacy―including help from Hollywood and Mickey Mouse―while Jews and innocents among ethnic groups ―Japanese, Germans―paid an unconscionable price. Mexican pilots flew in the Philippines and twenty-five thousand Brazilians breached the Gothic Line in Italy. This is an eye-opening account that is a must-read for history buffs, espionage aficionados, and thriller fans alike! Kirkus Reviews gave this book a starred review, as well, praising the fact that “McConahay gives an account thick with detail and unexpected twists regarding America’s efforts to control the resources of Latin America. Fast-paced and informative, this is essential reading for anyone who wants to better understand World War II and some of the forces that led to it.”
In addition to checking out some of the sensational books that have pirouetted onto our shelves this week, beloved patrons, we also wanted to bring you some information about hurricane relief efforts. Our neighbors and friends in North Carolina, South Carolina, and the mid-Atlantic region in general are still suffering the effects of Hurricane Florence, and they need our help. While the extent of the damage–and, hence, the extent of the need–is not yet fully known, there are several ways in which you can provide immediate help.
First and foremost, the American Red Cross has set up a website devoted specifically to donations for hurricane relief. You can also make donations over the phone by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting “FLORENCE” to 90999. When calling or donating online, make sure to designate your donation to Florence relief efforts.
In addition, the Red Cross is also asking for blood donations, which can be made locally. Check the Red Cross website to find the closest donation location to you.
In North Carolina, the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund is currently accepting contributions for Hurricane Florence damage. Contributions will help with immediate unmet needs of Hurricane Florence victims. Contributions can be made online by secure link, or you can text “Florence” to 20222. Alternatively, checks can be mailed to:
North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund
20312 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699
As always, if you are not able to donate at this time, please do not worry. There will always be ways to help, and any contributions you can make at any time will be appreciated. And thank you in advance for your good will and kindness!
And now…on to the books!
Arthur Ashe: A Life:Born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1943, by the age of eleven, Arthur Ashe was one of the state’s most talented black tennis players. Jim Crow restrictions barred Ashe from competing with whites. Still, in 1960 he won the National Junior Indoor singles title, which led to a tennis scholarship at UCLA. He became the first African American to play for the US Davis Cup team in 1963, and two years later he won the NCAA singles championship. In 1968, he won both the US Amateur title and the first US Open title, rising to a number one national ranking. Turning professional in 1969, he soon became one of the world’s most successful tennis stars, winning the Australian Open in 1970 and Wimbledon in 1975. After retiring in 1980, he served four years as the US Davis Cup captain and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985. In this fascinating biography, Raymond Arsenault chronicles Ashe’s rise to stardom on the court, as well as his off-court career as a writing, historian of tennis, and human rights activist in the United States, as well as an advocate for the destruction of Apartheid policies in South Africa. Additionally, Arsenault takes us through Ashe’s heart condition, which led to multiple surgeries and blood transfusions, one of which left him HIV-positive. In 1988, after completing a three-volume history of African-American athletes, he was diagnosed with AIDS, a condition he revealed only four years later. After devoting the last ten months of his life to AIDS activism, he died in February 1993 at the age of forty-nine, leaving an inspiring legacy of dignity, integrity, and active citizenship. This is an important, overdue, and highly enjoyable biography that is being praised by readers, critics, and tennis players, as well! The New York Times Review of Books gave it a resoundingly positive review, saying “For those who have long admired Ashe, this close look at his life offers even more evidence that he was more than a great player, he was an extraordinary person. . . . among the best books about tennis I’ve ever read — it’s a deep, detailed, thoughtful chronicle of one of the country’s best and most important players.”
The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots & the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War: Neal Bascombe’s popular histories of the First World War are well-researched, thoughtful, and deeply engaging stories that make history feel real and vital. This book is no exception, delving into the world of POW camps during the First World War. For Allied soldiers, one of the worst camps was Holzminden, a land-locked prison that housed the most troublesome, escape-prone prisoners. Its commandant was a boorish, hate-filled tyrant named Karl Niemeyer who swore that none should ever leave. Desperate to break out of “Hellminden” and return to the fight, a group of Allied prisoners led by ace pilot (and former Army sapper) David Gray hatch an elaborate escape plan. Their plot demands a risky feat of engineering as well as a bevy of disguises, forged documents, fake walls, and steely resolve. Once beyond the watch towers and round-the-clock patrols, Gray and almost a dozen of his half-starved fellow prisoners must then make a heroic 150 mile dash through enemy-occupied territory towards free Holland. Bascombe’s work is based on letters, diaries, and other first-hand accounts of this sensational escape that is earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews who called it “Fast-paced account of a forgotten episode of World War I history . . . Stirring . . . Bascomb’s portraits of the principals are affecting . . . Expertly narrated, with just the right level of detail and drama.”
The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War: Those of you looking for some more sensational war stories will love this latest from Ben Macintyre, whose work on espionage history has resulted in some highly entertaining real-life spy stories. This book tells the story of Oleg Gordievsky, who took his first posting for Russian intelligence in 1968 and eventually became the Soviet Union’s top man in London. However, Gordievsky was also a double agent, and from 1973, was secretly working for Britain’s MI6. For nearly a decade, as the Cold War reached its twilight, Gordievsky helped the West turn the tables on the KGB, exposing Russian spies and helping to foil countless intelligence plots, as the Soviet leadership grew increasingly paranoid. Desperate to keep the circle of trust close, MI6 never revealed Gordievsky’s name to its counterparts in the CIA, which in turn grew obsessed with figuring out the identity of Britain’s obviously top-level source. Their obsession ultimately doomed Gordievsky: the CIA officer assigned to identify him was none other than Aldrich Ames, the man who would become infamous for secretly spying for the Soviets. Culminating in the gripping cinematic beat-by-beat of Gordievsky’s nail-biting escape from Moscow in 1985, this is a history book that fans of many genres will savor. The Guardian wrote a glowing review of the book, noting “Macintrye had no access to MI6’s archives, which remain secret. But he has interviewed all of the former officers involved in the case, who tell their stories for the first time. He spoke extensively to Gordievsky, who is now 79 and living in the home counties – a remarkable figure, “proud, shrewd and irascible”. The result is a dazzling non-fiction thriller and an intimate portrait of high-stakes espionage.”
Washington Black: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize yesterday, Esi Edugyan’s novel tells the story of George Washington Black, or “Wash,” an eleven-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation. Although initially terrified to be chosen by his master’s brother as his manservant, Wash is surprised to learn the eccentric Christopher Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning–and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, Christopher and Wash must abandon everything, escaping along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic. What brings Christopher and Wash together will tear them apart, propelling Wash even further across the globe in search of his true self. This is a novel about freedom and friendship that is as thought-provoking as it is wonderfully imaginative. Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred (and boxed!) review, raving that “Edugyan’s magnificent third novel again demonstrates her range and gifts . . . Framing the story with rich evocations of the era’s science and the world it studies, Edugyan mines the tensions between individual goodwill and systemic oppression, belonging and exclusion, wonder and terror, and human and natural order . . . Crafted in supple, nuanced prose, Edugyan’s novel is both searing and beautiful.”
Ordinary People:Diana Evans is known for confronting difficult topics in her books with indefatigable humanity, and this novel is no exception, capturing the struggles of two married couples. In a crooked house in South London, Melissa feels increasingly that she’s defined solely by motherhood, while Michael mourns the former thrill of their romance. In the suburbs, Stephanie’s aspirations for bliss on the commuter belt, coupled with her white middle-class upbringing, compound Damian’s itch for a bigger life catalyzed by the death of his activist father. Longtime friends from the years when passion seemed permanent, the couples have stayed in touch, gathering for births and anniversaries, bonding over discussions of politics, race, and art. But as bonds fray, the lines once clearly marked by wedding bands aren’t so simply defined. Evans is the kind of writing who can make everyday details feel extraordinary, and that talent makes this story about the fragile bonds that bind us together so moving. Library Journal had a world of good things to say about this class, noting “This new novel from Evans…tells the story of a group of young, mostly black Londoners searching for equanimity in their personal and professional lives, with the music of John Legend, Jill Scott, and Amy Winehouse providing the soundtrack as they navigate the rocky roads from dating to mating and parenting…. With astute observations on marriage and parenthood… and an accompanying playlist to boot, this novel is anything but ordinary. It’s a sparkling gem.”
This year’s shortlist recognizes three writers from the UK, two from the US, and one from Canada. There are four women and two men nominated. Moreover, Daisy Johnson, at 27-years-old, is officially the youngest novelist nominated for the award.
At a press conference this morning, the 2018 Chair of judges, Kwame Anthony Appiah, remarked that each of these novels is “a miracle of stylistic invention.” He continued:
In each of them the language takes centre stage. And yet in every other respect they are remarkably diverse, exploring a multitude of subjects ranging across space and time. From Ireland to California, in Barbados and the Arctic, they inhabit worlds that not everyone will have been to, but which we can all be enriched by getting to know. Each one explores the anatomy of pain — among the incarcerated and on a slave plantation, in a society fractured by sectarian violence, and even in the natural world. But there are also in each of them moments of hope. These books speak very much to our moment, but we believe that they will endure.
The winner on the Man Booker Prize will be announced on 16 October at a dinner in London’s Guildhall. Until then, we hope you enjoy perusing this shortlist! Sadly, three of the titles are not yet available to us in the US, but we’ll be bringing you updates when they do!