Autumn is a delightful season for book lovers. Not only do author-based events abound, including the upcoming Milton Literary Festival (see related story on page 15), fall is also when winners of some of the literary world’s most prestigious prizes are announced.
The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded in October, the National Book Awards will be announced Nov. 16, and the Man Booker Prize was bestowed late in October.
In addition to top-place finishers, titles shortlisted for each of these awards offer options galore for book clubs planning the literary year ahead as well as readers just looking to curl up with a good book on a cool autumn day.
Nobel Prize in Literature
This year’s surprise winner, Bob Dylan, was selected “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” He is the first American to win the prize in over two decades, since Toni Morrison in 1993.
While readers may not have a body of written work of Dylan’s from which to pick and choose, that’s not to say this year’s Nobel Laureate can only be appreciated by dragging out old albums. “Chronicles: Volume One,” the first of what Dylan has said will be a three-volume memoir, touches on various points in his half-century-plus career.
The Swedish Academy, the committee that decides the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, did not announce a shortlist of nominees, but that didn’t stop speculation among the literary public as well as a British-based gambling site prior to the prize’s announcement in October.
Some of the authors mentioned as possible Nobel contenders included American writers Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth and Don DeLillo, Syrian-born poet Adonis, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare and Spanish novelist Javier Marías. Prolific authors all, many have recent titles from which to choose.
National Book Awards
For more than 60 years, the mission of the National Book Foundation and the National Book Awards has been to “celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.”
In 2016, they aim to accomplish just that by selecting from the following list of
National Book Awards finalists for fiction:
• Chris Bachelder, “The Throwback Special.” Bachelder’s fourth novel concerns a group of middle-aged men who reunite each year to re-enact one of football’s most gruesome plays, when Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor ended Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann’s career with a leg-shattering sack.
• Paulette Jiles, “News of the World.” In Jiles’ latest work, an elderly war veteran in 1870s Texas is offered a $50 gold piece to return a 10-year-old captive of the Kiowa Indians back to her relatives in San Antonio.
• Karan Mahajan, “The Association of Small Bombs.” Mahajan’s second novel deals with the aftermath of a terrorist bombing in Delhi and its effects on the families of two young boys who were killed.
• Colson Whitehead, “The Underground Railroad.” This time-hopping novel tells the story of two slaves who make a bid for freedom from their Georgia plantations by following the Underground Railroad, which Whitehead imagines as a literal mode of transportation.
• Jacqueline Woodsen, “Another Brooklyn.” A celebrated writer of children’s books, Woodsen’s first novel for adults in 20 years features an anthropologist returning home for her father’s funeral and encountering a long-ago friend who sets tragic memories from the 1970s in motion.
National Book Awards are also given in three additional categories: nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature. Titles shortlisted in those categories include:
• Arlie Russell Hochschild, “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right”
• Ibram X. Kendi, “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America”
• Viet Thanh Nguyen, “Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War”
• Andrés Reséndez, “The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America”
• Heather Ann Thompson, “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy”
• Daniel Borzutzky, “The Performance of Becoming Human”
• Rita Dove, “Collected Poems 1974 – 2004”
• Peter Gizzi, “Archeophonics”
• Jay Hopler, “The Abridged History of Rainfall”
• Solmaz Sharif, “Look”
Young People’s Literature
• Kate DiCamillo, “Raymie Nightingale”
• John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell, “March: Book Three”
• Grace Lin, “When the Sea Turned to Silver”
• Jason Reynolds, “Ghost”
• Nicola Yoon, “The Sun Is Also a Star”
Additionally, the National Book Foundation also presents annual honors to five promising debut fiction writers under the age of 35. This year’s honorees are:
• Brit Bennett, “The Mothers”
• Yaa Gyasi, “Homegoing”
• Greg Jackson, “Prodigals”
• S. Li, “Transoceanic Lights”
• Thomas Pierce, “Hall of Small Mammals”
Man Booker Prize
Since 1969, the Man Booker Prize has been awarded to the best original full-length novel written in the English language.
Originally limited to writers from Britain, Ireland, the Commonwealth and Zimbabwe, the Man Booker Prize changed its rules in 2014 to include submissions from any author whose work was published in Britain and was first written in English.
The 2016 shortlist for the Man Booker Prize, awarded after our deadline, included:
• Paul Beatty (US), “The Sellout”
• Deborah Levy (UK), “Hot Milk”
• Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK), “His Bloody Project”
• Ottessa Moshfegh (US) “Eileen”
• David Szalay (Canada-UK), “All That Man Is”
• Madeleine Thien (Canada), “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” ■