Winners of the 2017 National Book Awards Announced

by , NOVEMBER 16, 2017, first appearing on Library Journal

“Books matter because they give us information and hope and connect us to other people,” said Lisa Lucas, the National Book Foundation’s executive director, in a recorded message at the National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner on November 15, at Cipriani’s in New York. Lucas appeared in person as well, appealing to the tightly packed audience for support (envelopes in the program facilitated donations) and proclaim the desire to “not just celebrate [both winners and finalists] tonight but…keep celebrating the work they do.” The awards were the focus of the evening, but as always, National Book Foundation programming got big plugs throughout.

Lucas’s what-books-can-do theme was carried forth by the award winners. Robin Benway, winner of the award for Young People’s Literature for Far from the Tree (HarperTeen), an affecting story of family, told her fellow finalists that “sharing this experience with you has been an honor” and celebrated teenagers as the “toughest audience because they need to hear the truth more than anybody.” Said Frank Bidart, poetry winner for Half-light: Collected Poems, 1965–2016 (Farrar), a magisterial compilation of all the poet’s previous volumes plus the new collection Thirst, “I’m almost twice as old as any of the other finalists, and writing poems is how I survived…. I hope the journey these poems go on help others to survive as well.”

Masha Gessen, whose The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (Riverhead) clarifies the emergence of a new brand of autocracy in Russia today by charting the lives of four people born at the time Communism fell, noted “I never thought a Russian book would be on the list for the National Book Awards, but things have changed.” Said Paula J. Giddings, chair of the nonfiction panel, the judges looked for books that were “national or transnational in scope and significance,…books that spoke to the underpinnings that shape a culture, …and books that [address] the tyranny of state”—those who perpetuate it, those who succumb to it, and those who resist.

Winning her second National Book Award for Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner), an ambitious story of poverty, oppression, and family fractured along race lines and encompassing African American–rooted magic realism, Jesmyn Ward spoke affectingly of the subtexts she has sensed in rejections of her work, as if readers were saying, “What do I have in common with a pregnant 15-year-old or a 13-year-old with a drug-addicted mother?” That challenge to universality begs the question of what books can do, as articulated by master of ceremonies Cynthia Nixon, who saw them as offering not just escape but a “welcome knowledge of history [and] broadened perspective. They cultivate empathy, inspire action, and make us feel less alone.”

Presented with the 2017 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, Richard Robinson, Scholastic chairman of the board, said that while he always wanted to receive a prize for a novel, “I am so grateful to the National Book Foundation for giving me a reading award instead.” His acceptance speech, gracefully introduced by President Bill Clinton (“I don’t think he’s ever going to win an award that reflects his heart as this one does”), embodied his conviction that reading is a solution to social ills, which makes it especially important to get books into the hands of all children.“In the years to come, reading will be more important than ever,” he declared. Rejecting a world of 20 percent reading haves and 80 percent have nots, he added “We have a huge stake in establishing a level playing field.”

Annie Proulx, winner of the 2017 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, took up the theme of social responsibility, pointing out that “we are living through a massive transition from representative democracy to viral direct democracy,” which is overwhelming us in a “garbage-strewn tsunami of raw data.” Decrying environmental degradation and encouraging listeners to join citizen science projects, she celebrating “outmoded values like truth” and wrestled with the tension between hard facts and hope, taking up books as a model: “The happy ending still beckons.”

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George Saunders Wins Man Booker Prize For ‘Lincoln In The Bardo’

George Saunders Book

Author George Saunders poses with his book Lincoln in the Bardo at the Royal Festival Hall in London on Monday. On Tuesday, he was announced as the winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Chris J. Ratcliffe/AFP/Getty Images

by Camila Domonoske, October 17, 2017, first appearing on npr Blog

American author George Saunders has won the Man Booker prize for his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, a polyphonous meditation on death, grief and American history.

Saunders, widely lauded for his short stories, was considered the favorite to win the award. His novel centers on the death of Abraham Lincoln’s beloved son Willie and the night that Lincoln reportedly spent in the graveyard, devastated by his grief and lingering by his son’s body.

In the book, Saunders weaves fragments of historical documents (both authentic and imagined) with the voices of ghosts trapped in the graveyard with young Willie, watching in wonder at the strength of his father’s love. The devastating toll of the Civil War is the backdrop for the scene of very particular loss.

Lola Young, the chair of the panel of judges that awarded the Booker Prize, called the novel “utterly original,” praising the narrative as “witty, intelligent, and deeply moving.”

In February, Saunders told NPR that he carried the idea for the novel around with him for 20 years — although he wasn’t sure it would be a novel at all.

“Four years ago, I was like, ‘Jeez, this has been bothering me all these years, maybe it’s time to give it a try,’ ” he said. “And I kind of almost had a contract with this book. Kind of like, don’t bloat up on me — be a story if you can be a story. If you can be a nice paragraph, that’s fine. So I kind of kept it on a short leash, but it just kept growing, so I finally said, ‘OK, you are what you are.’ “

Saunders explained that the “bardo” of the title is a Tibetan concept for a sort of transitional zone — a space between death and whatever comes after, in the world of the novel.

This is the second year in a row that an American has taken home the prize — in a year when U.S. authors made up 50 percent of the short list.

The Man Booker, one of the most prestigious prizes in literature, has been awarded annually since 1969. It comes with a £50,000 (nearly $66,000) cash prize and is generally associated with a substantial boost in sales for the winning book.

The award was originally reserved only for writers from the United Kingdom or the Commonwealth (countries that were once part of the British empire), but four years ago, the prize was opened up to Americans.

Last year, the prize went to Paul Beatty for The Sellout. It was the first time the Man Booker had been awarded to an American.

What’s this about an eclipse now?

EclipseI’m sure you have heard that there is going to be an eclipse in a couple of weeks… Unless you have been abroad or asleep for the last month and this is the very first thing that you chose to read upon returning/waking (I’m flattered), in which case here’s the gist; August 21, moon, sun, shadow. It’s a big deal.

While you are prepping your eclipse party and finding special viewing glasses, here is a quick list a eclipse appropriate tunes to get you in the mood for this particular astronomical event.

Songs to get you ready for total eclipse

Which is your go-to eclipse song? I’ve got to go with Bill Withers personally.

The Better Angels of Our Nature

The New York Times/Sketchbook/Graphic Review/By Anders NilsenJune 22, 2017

A graphic review of Steven Pinker’s book about the dramatic decline of violence in human affairs over history.

Better AngelsAnders Nilsen is the author of the graphic novels Big Questions, Rage of Poseidon and the forthcoming Tongues.

Print Is Back!

According to a Nielsen report from the beginning of this year, ebook sales were down 16% in 2016. As a result something incredible happened, something many people thought would never happen again – print books out-sold ebooks last year!

Well, it never really left. And it isn’t so much that print is growing as it is that eBooks have just taken a hit…

YPrint v Digitalou can read the Publisher’s Weekly article here for all the details. In essence, the rising prices of ebooks and waning sales of dedicated ereaders (which lead people to buy more ebooks because that is all the devices can be used for) has lead to a decline in ebook sales. The results?

It is early to tell, but it might just mean that print book lovers don’t have to worry about losing their beloved paper anytime soon; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that ebook readers should start recycling their Kindles either. As was previously blogged, an ebook reader is likely to be a print reader as well, and print readers are the ones most likely to start reading ebooks – readers are readers. It might just mean that the two formats can share the market more equally than originally anticipated, peacefully coexisting. Books, as always, point the way for the rest of us.

 

This just in: People still read books!

The Gallup Polls report, “Rumors of the Demise of Books Greatly Exaggerated“, from January of this year shows that Americans are still reading just as much as they were 10, even 25, years ago. Even in spite of the advent of new technologies and the ever-growing list of other forms of entertainment and information.

Gallup

“Bottom Line

Despite Americans’ ability to access more information, social networks, games and media than ever before, as well as the lingering rumors of the book’s demise, Americans still say they are reading books.

Additionally, while some have alleged that technology would displace printed books, this shift has not been as swift as expected. In fact, recent industry data show that sales of printed books have been increasing. While it is unclear if Americans are reading books only partially, reading shorter books or reading lower-quality books than they used to, the fact that they are reading just as many books as they were 15 years ago could signify welcome news to aspiring authors and publishers.

This suggests that book reading is a classic tradition that has remained a constant in a faster-paced world, especially in comparison to the slump of other printed media such as newspapers and magazines.”

Gallup, Inc. “Rumors of the Demise of Books Greatly Exaggerated.” Gallup.com. N.p., 06 Jan. 2017. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.