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Great Reads: National Book Awards 2023 Finalists

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Great Reads: National Book Awards 2023 Finalists

natl book award finalists 2023

Looking for your next great read? If so, check out the finalists for this year’s National Book Awards, which were announced on October 3.

Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are American literary prizes administered by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization.  Recognizing literary excellence, the Awards currently honor the best Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature, published each year.

The winners for 2023 will be announced on November 15. 

Here are some of the honored books in the different categories, available (or soon to be available)  to borrow with your Livingston library card and to add to your fall reading list.

Fiction

blackouts

Blackouts : A Novel by Justin Torres

Out in the desert in a place called the Palace, a young man tends to a dying soul, someone he once knew briefly, but who has haunted the edges of his life. Juan Gay—playful raconteur, child lost and found and lost, guardian of the institutionalized—has a project to pass along to this new narrator. It is inspired by a true artifact of a book, Sex Variants: A Study in Homosexual Patterns, which contains stories collected in the early 20th century from queer subjects by a queer researcher, Jan Gay, whose groundbreaking work was then co-opted by a committee, her name buried. As Juan waits for his end, he and the narrator trade stories—moments of joy and oblivion—and resurrect lost loves, lives, mothers, fathers, minor heroes. The past is with us, beside us, ahead of us; what are we to create from its gaps and erasures?

Inspired by Kiss of the Spider Woman, Pedro Páramo, Voodoo Macbeth, the book at its own center and the woman who created it, oral histories, and many more texts, images, and influences, this is a work of fiction that sees through the inventions of history and narrative. An extraordinary work of creative imagination, it insists that we look long and steady at the world we have inherited and the world we have made—a world full of ghostly shadows and flashing moments of truth.

Chain-Gang All-Stars : A Novel by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker are the stars of Chain-Gang All-Stars, the cornerstone of CAPE, or Criminal Action Penal Entertainment, a highly-popular, highly-controversial, profit-raising program in America’s increasingly dominant private prison industry. It’s the return of the gladiators and prisoners are competing for the ultimate prize: their freedom.

In CAPE, prisoners travel as Links in Chain-Gangs, competing in death-matches for packed arenas with righteous protestors at the gates. Thurwar and Staxxx, both teammates and lovers, are the fan favorites. And if all goes well, Thurwar will be free in just a few matches, a fact she carries as heavily as her lethal hammer. As she prepares to leave her fellow Links, she considers how she might help preserve their humanity, in defiance of these so-called games, but CAPE’s corporate owners will stop at nothing to protect their status quo and the obstacles they lay in Thurwar’s path have devastating consequences.

Moving from the Links in the field to the protestors to the CAPE employees and beyond, this novel offers a kaleidoscopic, excoriating look at the American prison system’s unholy alliance of systemic racism, unchecked capitalism, and mass incarceration, and a clear-eyed reckoning with what freedom in this country really means.

The End of Drum-Time : A Novel by Hanna Pylvainen

In 1851, at a remote village in the Scandinavian tundra, a Lutheran minister known as Mad Lasse tries in vain to convert the native Sámi reindeer herders to his faith. But when one of the most respected herders has a dramatic awakening and dedicates his life to the church, his impetuous son, Ivvár, is left to guard their diminishing herd alone. By chance, he meets Mad Lasse’s daughter Willa, and their blossoming infatuation grows into something that ultimately crosses borders-of cultures, of beliefs, and of political divides-as Willa follows the herders on their arduous annual migration north to the sea. Gorgeously written and sweeping in scope, this novel immerses readers in a world lit by the northern lights, steeped in age-old rituals, and guided by passions that transcend place and time.

Temple Folk by Aaliyah Bilal

A groundbreaking debut collection portraying the lived experiences of Black Muslims grappling with faith, family, and freedom in America.  The ten stories in this collection contribute to the bounty of diverse narratives about Black life by intimately portraying the experiences of a community that resists the mainstream culture to which they are expected to accept and aspire to while functioning within the country in which they are born.

This Other Eden by Paul Harding

In 1792, formerly enslaved Benjamin Honey and his Irish wife, Patience, discover an island where they can make a life together. Over a century later, the Honeys’ descendants and a diverse group of neighbors are desperately poor, isolated, and often hungry, but nevertheless protected from the hostility awaiting them on the mainland.

During the tumultuous summer of 1912, Matthew Diamond, a retired, idealistic but prejudiced schoolteacher-turned-missionary, disrupts the community’s fragile balance through his efforts to educate its children. His presence attracts the attention of authorities on the mainland who, under the influence of the eugenics-thinking popular among progressives of the day, decide to forcibly evacuate the island, institutionalize its residents, and develop the island as a vacation destination. Beginning with a hurricane flood reminiscent of the story of Noah’s Ark, the novel ends with yet another Ark.

A spellbinding story of resistance and survival, this work is an enduring testament to the struggle to preserve human dignity in the face of intolerance and injustice.

Nonfiction

fire weather

Fire Weather : A True Story From a Hotter World by John Vaillant

In May 2016, the city of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, burned to the ground, forcing 88,000 people to flee their homes. It was the largest evacuation ever of a city in the face of a forest fire, raising the curtain on a new age of increasingly destructive wildfires. This book is a suspenseful account of one of North America’s most devastating forest fires–and a stark exploration of our dawning era of climate catastrophes.

Liliana’s Invincible Summer : A Sister’s Search For Justice by Cristina Rivera Garza

In the early hours of July 16, 1990, Liliana Rivera Garza was murdered by her abusive ex-boyfriend. A life full of promise and hope, cut tragically short, Liliana’s story instead became subsumed into Mexico’s dark and relentless history of domestic violence. With Liliana’s case file abandoned by a corrupt criminal justice system, her family, including her older sister Cristina, was forced to process their grief and guilt in private, without any hope for justice. A memoir decades in the making, this book  tells a singular yet universally resonant story: that of a spirited, wondrously romantic young woman who tried to survive in a world of increasingly normalized gendered violence. It traces the story of her childhood, her early romance with a handsome–but insecure and possessive–older man, through the exhilarating weeks leading up to that fateful July morning, a summer when Liliana loved, thought, and traveled more widely and freely than she ever had before.

Ordinary Notes by Christina Elizabeth Sharpe

Told through a series of 248 notes, this volume explores profound questions about loss and the shapes of Black life that emerge in the wake of it, touching upon such themes as language, beauty, memory, history and literature.

Rediscovery of America : Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U. S. History by Ned Blackhawk

The most enduring feature of U.S. history is the presence of Native Americans, yet most histories focus on Europeans and their descendants. Indigenous history is essential to understanding the evolution of modern America. Blackhawk interweaves five centuries of Native and non-Native histories, from Spanish colonial exploration to the rise of Native American self-determination in the late twentieth century. This retelling of U.S. history acknowledges the enduring power, agency, and survival of Indigenous peoples, yielding a truer account of the United States and revealing anew the varied meanings of America.

We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I : a Palestinian Memoir by Raja Shehadeh

A subtle psychological portrait of the author’s relationship with his father during the twentieth-century battle for Palestinian human rights. Aziz Shehadeh was many things: lawyer, activist, and political detainee, he was also the father of bestselling author and activist Raja. In this new and searingly personal memoir, Raja Shehadeh unpicks the snags and complexities of their relationship. A vocal and fearless opponent, Aziz resists under the British mandatory period, then under Jordan, and, finally, under Israel. As a young man, Raja fails to recognize his father’s courage and, in turn, his father does not appreciate Raja’s own efforts in campaigning for Palestinian human rights. When Aziz is murdered in 1985, it changes Raja irrevocably. This is not only the story of the battle against the various oppressors of the Palestinians, but a moving portrait of a particular father and son relationship.

Poetry

from from

From From : Poems by Monica Youn

A collection of poems reflects the experiences of Asian Americans and the problem of creating an Asian American identity while influenced by Westerners’ ideas about Asians.

How to Communicate : Poems by John Lee Clarke

Formally restless and relentlessly instructive, this is a dynamic journey through language, community, and the unfolding of an identity. Poet John Lee Clark pivots from inventive forms inspired by the braille slate to sensuous prose poems to pathbreaking translations from ASL and Protactile, a language built on touch. Amid the astonishing task of constructing a new canon, Clark reveals a radically commonplace life-the vagaries of family, grief, and small delights: visiting a museum, knitting, and, once, encountering a ghost in a gas station. 

Suddenly We by Evie Shockley

Shockley repurposes literary and musical modes from across centuries of African American and diasporic traditions. Given the choice between formal flawlessness and page-spanning sprawls, between autobiographical revelation and collective outcry, she welcomes the self-contradictions of being all the above.

Translated Literature

abyss

Abyss by Pilar Quintana; translated by Lisa Dillman

Claudia is an impressionable eight-year-old girl, trying to understand the world through the eyes of the adults around her. But her hardworking father hardly speaks a word, while her unhappy mother spends her days reading celebrity lifestyle magazines. Then an interloper arrives, disturbing the delicate balance of family life, and Claudia’s world starts falling apart.

Beyond the Door of No Return by David Diop; translated by Sam Taylor

Drawing on the richness and lyricism of Senegal’s oral traditions, this fantastical story traces the obsession of a renowned botanist who, while on a research expedition in West Africa, becomes obsessed with finding a young woman of noble birth rumored to be the revenant.

On a Woman’s Madness by Astrid Roemer

A classic of queer literature that’s as electrifying today as it was when it originally appeared in 1982, On a Woman’s Madness tells the story of Noenka, a courageous Black woman trying to live a life of her choosing. When her abusive husband of just nine days refuses her request for divorce, Noenka flees her hometown in Suriname, on South America’s tropical northeastern coast, for the capital city of Paramaribo. Unsettled and unsupported, her life in this new place is illuminated by the passionate romances of the present but haunted by society’s expectations and her ancestral past.

Young People’s Literature

big vashti harrison

Big by Vashti Harrison

Praised for acting like a big girl when she is small, as a young girl grows, “big” becomes a word of criticism, until the girl realizes that she is fine just the way she is.

A First Time For Everything : A True Story by Dan Santat

A middle grade graphic memoir based on bestselling author and Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat’s awkward middle school years and the trip to Europe that changed his life.Dan’s always been a good kid. But being a good kid doesn’t stop him from being bullied and feeling like he’s invisible, which is why Dan has low expectations when his parents send him on a class trip to Europe. At first, he’s right. He’s stuck with the same girls from his middle school who love to make fun of him, and he doesn’t know why his teacher insisted he come on this trip. But a series of first experiences begin to change him—first Fanta, first fondue, first time stealing a bike from German punk rockers…and first love.

Archana Chiplunkar, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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