On Monday, August 13, the Phi Beta Kappa Society announced the short list for the annual book award, which recognizes outstanding scholarly books published in the United States in the fields of the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences and mathematics.
Phi Beta Kappa was founded by five students at the College of William & Mary in 1776. Their belief was that the new nation they hoped to build would need new intellectual institutions to that would reflect the principles of that nation–intellectual freedom, freedom of speech, and creativity. Though the society was initially a secret one, which the founders believed would keep them safe from political persecution, Phi Beta Kappa is now a nationally- and internationally-recognized institution with Today there are 286 chapters at American colleges and universities and 50 active alumni associations located in all regions of the country.
As per their website, Phi Beta Kappa’s name originated from the motto “Love of learning is the guide of life,” a phrase the founders derived from the Greek Φιλοσοφία Βίου Κυβερνήτης. The three Greek letters ΦΒΚ are inscribed on the signature gold key that is today a nationally recognized credential signifying academic achievement.
The Phi Beta Kappa book awards are intended to recognize not only books that help us learn, but that do so in a way that is interesting, accessible, and effective. As a result, non-fiction lovers will find plenty of books among these nominees to whet their literary palate! There are three awards, each of which has their own short list. The winning authors will be honored at a gala dinner on December 7th, 2018 in Washington, DC, at The Carnegie Institution for Science. A description of the awards and their nominees are below. Tune in for updates, as the award winners will be announced on October 1, 2018.
The Christian Gauss Award: Recognizes books in the field of literary scholarship or criticism. The nominees are:
The Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science: Honors outstanding contributions by scientists to the literature of science, encouraging literate and scholarly interpretations of the physical and biological sciences and mathematics.The nominees are:
The Ralph Waldo Emerson Award: Recognizes works from scholarly studies that contribute significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity, including works in the fields of history, philosophy and religion as well as such fields as anthropology and the social sciences. The nominees are:
As we noted last year, the Shirley Jackson Awards are named after the beloved and revered author of such seminal works as “The Lottery” (among a phenomenal collection of short stories), We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Haunting of Hill House. In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards recognize outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. This year’s nominees represent some of the most intriguing, rule-breaking, genre-defying, intensely engaging reads of the past year (in our opinion, anyway…and that of the judges…). Thus, you can only guess how terrific the winners’ books are!
So here is a selection from the categories of winners and nominees for the 2017 Shirley Jackson Awards, with links to the titles in our catalogs. We hope you find some new books to add to your list here, and would love to help you find even more dark fiction to add to your summer reading!
And a wealth of congratulations to Kamila Shamsie, who was awarded this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel, Home Fire!
Shamsie’s novelreworks Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone to tell the story of a British Muslim family’s connection to Islamic State was hailed by the judges of the prize as “the story of our times”. According to the 2018 Chair of Judges Sarah Sands, said: “This was a dazzling shortlist, it had depth and richness and variety. We were forcibly struck by the quality of the prose. Each book had its champions. We loved the originality of mermaids and courtesans, we were awed by the lyrical truth of an American road trip which serves as a commentary of the history of race in America, we discussed into the night the fine and dignified treatment of a woman’s domestic abuse, we laughed over a student’s rite of passage and we experienced the truth of losing a parent and loving a child. In the end we chose the book which we felt spoke for our times. Home Fire is about identity, conflicting loyalties, love and politics. And it sustains mastery of its themes and its form. It is a remarkable book which we passionately recommend.”
It’s a good day for books, beloved patrons, so let’s keep celebrating by taking a look at some of the other super-terrific stories that have swung up onto our shelves this week, and are eager to make your acquaintance!
The Death of Mrs. Westaway: I don’t know about you, but Ruth Ware’s psychological thrillers are some of the highlights of my summer reading, so it’s with great pleasure that we introduce her newest novel, about a tarot card reader named Hal. When Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but a tarot reader needs to be talented at reading people and adapting to their needs, so Hal decides to take matters into her own hands. But at the funeral of the deceased, it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it. This book especially has earned Ware a number of comparisons to Agatha Christie, but there is also something delightfully modern about her unsettling plots and crafty, surprising heroines. It’s also been earned starred reviews left, right, and center, including one from Booklist, who cheered, “The labyrinth Ware has devised here is much more winding than expected, with reveals even on the final pages… a clever heroine and an atmospheric setting, accented by wisps of meaning that drift from the tarot cards.”
Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York:With the release of some 19th-century and early 20th-century medical records, it’s becoming possible to tell new, more compassionate, and insightful histories of madness, medicine, and the people who were caught up in medical and state institutions. In this book, Stacy Holt uses narratives from the inhabitants of Roosevelt Island–once known as Blackwell’s Island, a stretch of land in New York’s East River that was the site of a lunatic asylum, two prisons, an almshouse, and a number of hospitals. This was a site of terrible overcrowding; prisoners were enlisted to care for the insane; punishment was harsh and unfair; and treatment was nonexistent. Yet despite the aching human tragedies and horror that Holt describes, there are also stories of hope, including the work of Reverend William Glenney French, who devoted his life to ministering to Blackwell’s residents, battling the bureaucratic mazes of the Department of Correction and a corrupt City Hall, and testifying at trials, all while wondering in his diary about man’s inhumanity to man. This isn’t an easy read by any means, but it’s a significant one that asks a lot of pressing questions about today’s mental health treatments, as well as illuminating the past. Publisher’s Weekly agrees, describing this book as “a vivid and at times horrifying portrait of Blackwell’s Island…Horn has created a bleak but worthwhile depiction of institutional failure, with relevance for persistent debates over the treatment of the mentally ill and incarcerated.”
The Art of the Wasted Day: An ideal read for the summer, Patricia Hampl’s book is a delightfully different kind of travel story, describing her journeys to the homes of those who made repose a goal, even an art form. She begins with two celebrated eighteenth-century Irish ladies who ran off to live a life of “retirement” in rural Wales. Her search then leads to Moravia to consider the monk-geneticist, Gregor Mendel, and finally to Bordeaux for Michel Montaigne–the hero of this book–who retreated from court life to sit in his chateau tower and write about whatever passed through his mind, thus inventing the personal essay. In the midst of this study, Hampl also recalls her own personal relationship with leisure, from her childhood days lazing under a neighbor’s beechnut tree to the joys discovered in quietly falling in love, which led to the greatest adventure of her life. A thoughtful, emotional study about the joys found in thinking, in wandering, and in exploring, this is a book for all of you armchair explorers who are looking for a new kind of escape. The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote a glowing review of this book, calling it, “A wise and beautiful ode to the imagination – from a child’s daydreams, to the unexpected revelations encountered in solitary travel, meditation, and reading, to the flights of creativity taken by writers, artists, and philosophers.”
The Order of Time:Carlo Rovelli’s study, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, made scary science into something accessible, beautiful, and downright enjoyable, and now he is back to study time. We all experience time, but the more scientists learn about it, the more mysterious it remains. We think of it as uniform and universal, moving steadily from past to future, measured by clocks. Rovelli tears down these assumptions one by one, revealing a strange universe where at the most fundamental level time disappears. Weaving together ideas from philosophy, science and literature, Rovelli suggests that our perception of the flow of time depends on our perspective, better understood starting from the structure of our brain and emotions than from the physical universe. It’s a concept that makes sense when you consider that it was humans who made time and clocks and such things, but this journey ties those inventions into a much deeper, richer understanding of the world that will have you rethinking all the basic tenants of time that you thought you knew. Scientific American loved this book, noting in its review how “Rovelli, a physicist and one of the founders of loop quantum gravity theory, uses literary, poetical and historical devices to unravel the properties of time, what it means to exist without time and, at the end, how time began.”
Social Creature: Here’s another thriller to keep your summer sizzling–in fact, Tara Isabella Burton is already drawing comparisons to Gillian Flynn and Tara French, so fans of those compulsively-readable authors should be quick to add this to their summer reading list. Louise has nothing. Lavinia has everything. After a chance encounter, the two spiral into an intimate, intense, and possibly toxic friendship. They go through both bottles of champagne, and as they drink, Lavinia tells Louise about all the places they will go together, when they finish their stories, when they are both great writers-to Paris and to Rome and to Trieste…but Lavinia will never go. She is going to die soon. A modern twist on Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, this book takes a razor-sharp look at our social conventions, all while telling a story that is addictive, dark, and scintillating in the ways of all good summer thrillers. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review, praising “Burton’s exceptional character work…every individual is both victim and villain, imbuing their interactions with oceans of emotional subtext and creating conflict that propels the book toward its shocking yet inevitable conclusion…At once a thrilling and provocative crime novel, a devastating exploration of female insecurity, and a scathing indictment of society’s obsession with social media.”
We are in the thick of awards season, beloved patrons, and let me tell you, it’s a good season to be a reader. Last week, the winners of the 52nd Annual Nebula Awards were announced at the annual convention of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)
The Nebula Awards (a picture of one of the awards is on the left) were first awarded in 1966, and have grown in prestige to be recognized as one of the most significant awards for science fiction and fantasy in publishing. Each year, a novel, novella, novelette, and short story are chosen…and just in case you, too, were wondering what a “novelette’ is, it is defined by SFWA as “a work between 7,500 and 17,500 words”, while a “novella” is between 17,500 and 40,00 words. Any book written in English and published in the United States is eligible for nomination, and members of SFWA cast their ballots for the favorite books. This means that, essentially, the awards are chosen by readers and genre devotees, which means that they are not only of high quality in terms of genre and style, but that they are also a darned good read. As you will see, screenplays are also recognized with the Ray Bradbury Award, and middle grade and young adult fiction is nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Once again, the Nebulas are a bastion of diversity and good storytelling. As we mention each year, science fiction is a genre that is beautifully suited to questioning our current realities, imagining new ones, and crafting relationships that challenge and confront stereotypes. Fantasy does this, as well, and you’ll see from the titles listed below, the authors honored at the Nebula Awards are gifted at utilizing and transforming the genres to tell wildly inventive, insightful, haunting and compelling stories that linger long after the final page has turned.
We hope you find some new reading and viewing fodder among the nominees and winners listed below. For more information and a full list of Nebula winners, visit the SFWA’s website!
Several weeks ago, the editors of RT Book Reviews announced their selection for the best books of 2017. The awards themselves will be handed out at RT’s annual convention, which is taking place this week in Reno, Nevada.
RT Book Reviews (the RT stands for Romantic Times) was founded as a newsletter in 1981. By the 2004, the magazine, now a glossy magazine, reported a subscription of 150,000 people, and billed itself as “Romance’s premiere genre magazine.” The reviews, which covered most romance genres, as well as mystery, fiction, science fiction, thriller, and urban fantasy, were featured on book covers and websites. The conventions brought readers face-to-face with some of the most influential and beloved writers across genres.
But today, it was announced that RT Book Reviews would be closing at the end of the month, when the founder and editor of the magazine, Kathryn Falk, will be retiring. The full details of the closing have yet to be fully revealed, but you can be sure we will bring them to you when more is known.
Until then, however, we have the last round of RT Book Reviews Awards. And, since there won’t be any more, we can only assume that these books will remain the best books in their category for all eternity! We offer our heartiest congratulations to all the winners, and hope that you find some new books to savor from the list of winning titles below! For a full list of all nominated titles, see RT Book Reviews website.
What we once knew as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has undergone some changes in the past year, dear readers. However, though the sponsorship for the prize has changed (it is now shared between Baileys, the financial services firm Deloitte and the bank NatWest), the award is still very much dedicated to celebrating the diversity, skill, and power of fiction written by women.
As we’ve discussed here before, book awards have, traditionally, overlooked the contributions of women, people of color, and people who are not connected with elite schools or institutions. And that simply isn’t reflective of the world of publishing, or the world of readers. Books, and their authors, are as diverse as the world around us. It’s critical that all types of voices are heard, and that people around the world can find the stories they need; stories that represent them, that challenge them, and that help them see more of the world than they otherwise could.
And that’s one of the reasons that the Women’s Prize for Fiction is so critical. It recognizes those women that challenge the status quo with their work, it recognizes those works that ask difficult questions, probe troubling issues in our world, and which offer us a worldview to which we might not otherwise have access. They also tend to be sensationally good books, which is always an enormous plus!
This year’s shortlist features one previously shortlisted author and three debut novels. As Sarah Sands, 2018 chair of judges noted, “The shortlist was chosen without fear or favour. We lost some big names, with regret, but narrowed down the list to the books which spoke most directly and truthfully to the judges…The themes of the shortlist have both contemporary and lasting resonance encompassing the birth of the internet, race, sexual violence, grief, oh and mermaids.” And so, with an introduction like that, let’s get to the books! The titles and descriptions are provided below:
The Idiotby Elif Batuman: A portrait of the artist as a young woman. A novel about not just discovering but inventing oneself. The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings. At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan’s friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana. Selin’s summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.
Home Fireby Kamila Shamsie: From an internationally acclaimed novelist, the suspenseful and heartbreaking story of a family ripped apart by secrets and driven to pit love against loyalty, with devastating consequences. Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, an invitation from a mentor in America has allowed her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half the globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed. Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to–or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?
Sing, Unburied, Singby Jesmyn Ward: Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise. This is a novel that grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family.
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar: One September evening in 1785, Jonah Hancock hears an urgent knocking on his front door near the docks of London. The captain of one of Jonah’s trading vessels is waiting eagerly on the front step, bearing shocking news. On a voyage to the Far East, he sold the Jonah’s ship for something rare and far more precious: a mermaid. Jonah is stunned—the object the captain presents him is brown and wizened, as small as an infant, with vicious teeth and claws, and a torso that ends in the tail of a fish. It is also dead. As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlors and brothels, all of London is curious to see this marvel in Jonah Hancock’s possession. Thrust from his ordinary existence, somber Jonah finds himself moving from the city’s seedy underbelly to the finest drawing rooms of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of the coquettish Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on—and a shrewd courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting sparks a perilous liaison that steers both their lives onto a dangerous new course as they come to realize that priceless things often come at the greatest cost. Available in the US in September 2018
Sight by Jessie Greengrass:In this dazzling debut novel, our unnamed narrator recounts her progress to motherhood, while remembering the death of her own mother ten years before, and the childhood summers she spent with her psychoanalyst grandmother. Woven among these personal recollections are significant events in medical history: Wilhelm Rontgen’s discovery of the X-ray; Sigmund Freud’s development of psychoanalysis and the work that he did with his daughter, Anna; and the origins of modern surgery and the anatomy of pregnant bodies. Ultimately, this is a novel about being a parent and a child: what it is like to bring a person in to the world, and what it is to let one go. Available in the US in August 2018
When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy: Seduced by politics, poetry and an enduring dream of building a better world together, the unnamed narrator falls in love with a university professor. Moving with him to a rain-washed coastal town, she swiftly learns that what for her is a bond of love is for him a contract of ownership. As he sets about reducing her to his idealized version of an obedient wife, bullying her and devouring her ambition of being a writer in the process, she attempts to push back – a resistance he resolves to break with violence and rape. At once the chronicle of an abusive marriage and a celebration of the invincible power of art, When I Hit You is a smart, fierce and courageous take on traditional wedlock in modern India. Available in the US in June 2018
Congratulations to all the nominees–we’ll be marking our calendars for the release of these terrific books later this year in the US, and eagerly awaiting the announcement of the winner on June 6!
The Pulitzer Prize was established in 1917 by the Hungarian-born Joseph Pulitzer, who made his name and fortune as a newspaper publisher in the United States.
Pulitzer came the United States and was paid $200 to enlist in the United States Army during the American Civil War. Following his discharge, he made his way to Boston, intended to get work aboard the whaling ships of New Bedford. Whaling, he found to his dismay, was quite boring, so he lived the life of a tramp for some time, sleeping on the streets and traveling in boxcars all the way to St. Louis. In a town so full of German immigrants, Pulitzer was a welcomed guest, and soon found work in restaurants…and was fired when he dropped a tray and doused a patron in beer.
So Pulitzer did what all wise people do (ahem) and he started hanging out at the Library. He learned English from the books on the shelf, and decided to strike out on his own, making his way to Louisiana, after some fast-talking steamboat operators convinced him, and a few other men, good-paying jobs on a Louisiana sugar plantation. They boarded a steamboat, which took them downriver 30 miles south of the city, where the crew forced them off. When the boat churned away, the men concluded the promised plantation jobs were a ruse. They walked back to the city, where Pulitzer wrote an account of the fraud and was pleased when it was accepted by the Westliche Post, evidently his first published news story. He moved back to St. Louis (and near his beloved Library), and began buying shares in newspapers–then selling them, eventually making a profit that allowed him to buy both the St. Louis Dispatch, and the St. Louis Post, and combine them into the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which is still in operation today.
Pulitzer himself was a workhorse, putting in workdays that started at 10am and ended at 2am the next day. And that work paid off. Within a decade, he was buying newspapers in cities across the country, and by 1887, he was elected to the US Congress (and resigned so that he could pay attention to his papers). It is thanks to Pulitzer, and his arch-rival, William Randolph Hearst, that we have the world of news that we do today. The two of them, quite literally, single-handedly invented modern print journalism by selling advertising space in their papers, and, thus, monetizing the material they were putting out. In order to ensure that papers sold, they both encouraged their reporters to sell the stories, with eye-catching headlines, passionate story-telling, investigative, hard-hitting articles…and a good helping of sensationalism mixed in to ensure that the public remained riveted.
Pulitzer left Columbia University $2,000,000 in his will upon his death in 1912…this around the time that the average annual income was $500-$700…to found a school of journalism, to ensure the news empire that he build, and the business he had helped to found, would continue to thrive. Five years later, they established a prize in his name to reward the best that American journalism has to offer. Since then, the award has expanded to include “Letters, Drama, and Music” as well, making it one of the most prestigious literary awards in the United States. Prizes are awarded yearly in twenty-one categories. In twenty of the categories, each winner receives a certificate and a US$15,000 cash award (raised from $10,000 in 2017).
And today, we are thrilled to announce the winners of the 2018 Pulitzer Prizes for “Letters, Drama, and Music”, along with the description provided by the judging board in their selection. For the full list of awards, see the Pulitzer Prize website here.
An honest, original work that invites audiences to examine diverse perceptions of privilege and human connection through two pairs of mismatched individuals: a former trucker and his recently paralyzed ex-wife, and an arrogant young man with cerebral palsy and his new caregiver.
A deeply researched and elegantly written portrait of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie series, that describes how Wilder transformed her family’s story of poverty, failure and struggle into an uplifting tale of self-reliance, familial love and perseverance.
A volume of unyielding ambition and remarkable scope that mixes long dramatic poems with short elliptical lyrics, building on classical mythology and reinventing forms of desires that defy societal norms.
An examination of the historical roots of contemporary criminal justice in the U.S., based on vast experience and deep knowledge of the legal system, and its often-devastating consequences for citizens and communities of color.
Recording released on April 14, 2017, a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.