By Beth Clark • December 18, 2018
The Pulitzer. The Man Booker Prize. The National Book Awards. The Edgar Awards. All of them generally mean one thing: the books they're awarded to definitely don't suck. In fact, they're brilliant and incredible and moving and mesmerizing and disturbing and powerful and funny and, well...you'll just have and read them for yourself. Below are the winners of the most prestigious prizes, so enjoy.
Arthur Less is a failed novelist on the verge of turning 50 when he gets an invitation to a wedding that sets an epic global adventure in motion: his (younger, beautiful) boyfriend of nine years is marrying someone else. He can't say yes (awkward), but he can't say no (admits defeat), so in a desperate act of avoidance, he accepts every other invitation on his desk instead. A hilarious and heartfelt tale full of mishaps, satire, and a surprise love story ensues.
Forman's experience as a former D.C. public defender and quest to understand why the criminal justice system is the way it is uniquely qualifies him to compassionately tell the gripping stories of politicians, community activists, police officers, defendants, and crime victims caught up in it. In seeking to better understand how society became so punitive, he conveys the compelling reasons why we should all be concerned about the future of race and the criminal justice system in the US.
The Friend is a moving story of love, friendship, grief, healing, and the magical bond between human and dog. When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he left behind: a huge Great Dane traumatized by the disappearance of its master. Her own grief is intensified by the mute suffering of the dog...and the threat of eviction: dogs are prohibited in her building. Others worry that grief has made her a victim of magical thinking, but she refuses to be separated from the dog except briefly. Isolated, obsessed with the dog's care, and determined to read its mind and fathom its heart, she comes close to unraveling, but rich and surprising rewards lie in store for both of them.
In The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, Stewart offers the definitive biography of the father of the Harlem Renaissance, based on the primary sources of his life and interviews with those who knew him personally. He narrates Locke's education, including his becoming the first African American Rhodes Scholar and earning a PhD in philosophy at Harvard University, and his career as a professor at Howard University. Locke also received a cosmopolitan, aesthetic education through his travels in Europe, where he came to appreciate the beauty of art and freedom unknown to him in the United States. He explores both Locke's professional and private life, including his relationships with his mother, friends, and white patrons, as well as his lifelong search for love as a gay man. Stewart's thought-provoking biography recreates the worlds of this enigmatic man who, in promoting the cultural heritage of Black people, became—in the process—a New Negro himself.
Indecency is boldly and carefully executed and perfectly ragged. In these poems, Justin Phillip Reed experiments with language to explore inequity and injustice and to critique and lament the culture of white supremacy and the dominant social order. Political and personal, tender, daring, and insightful--the author unpacks his intimacies, weaponizing poetry to take on masculinity, sexuality, exploitation, and the prison industrial complex and unmask all the failures of the structures into which society sorts us.
As translated by Margaret Mitsutani: "Japan suffers from a massive irreparable disaster and cuts itself off from the world. Children are so weak they can barely stand: the only people with any get-go are the elderly. Mumei lives with his grandfather Yoshiro, who worries about him constantly. They carry on a routine in what could be viewed as a post-Fukushima, with all the children born ancient—frail and gray-haired, yet incredibly compassionate and wise. Mumei may be enfeebled, but he's a beacon of hope, full of wit and free of pessimism. Yoshiro concentrates on nourishing the strangely wonderful boy who offers ‘the beauty of the time that is yet to come.''
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and exposed in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew curves, she's let her fists and fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, so she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers--especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami's determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. When she's invited to join her school's slam poetry club, she doesn't know how she could attend without Mami finding out. But she still can't stop thinking about performing her poems. Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
The Man Booker Prize had three winners this year—the regular annual prize recipient, an international one, and a 50th anniversary/second 25 years "best of" award honoree. (Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie won the 1993 "Booker of Bookers" prize for the best novel of the first 25 years.)
Michael Ondaatje's story of four damaged lives that converge at the end of WWII in a bomb-riddled Italian villa is a must-read for so many reasons. Hana, the grieving nurse; Caravaggio, the maimed thief; Kip, the emotionally detached Indian soldier; and, of course, the English patient, a nameless burn victim. The mysterious and shocking story he tells from the upstairs room where he lies wrapped in bandages forever changes all the characters.
Milkman is the story of "middle sister," who becomes 'interesting'…the last thing she wants to be in a world of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness, and inaction with enormous consequences and decisions that are never made, but for which people are judged and punished anyway.
Flights is an enchanting, unsettling, and original exploration of what it means to be a traveler, a wanderer, a body in motion not only through space but through time. Where are you from? Where are you coming in from? Where are you going? we call to the traveler. Tokarczuk is a master storyteller whose brilliantly imagined characters are interwoven with haunting, playful, and revelatory meditations: A seventeenth-century Dutch anatomist discovers the Achilles tendon by dissecting his own amputated leg. Chopin's heart is carried back to Warsaw in secret by his adoring sister. A woman must return to her native Poland in order to poison her terminally ill high school sweetheart, and a young man slowly descends into madness when his wife and child mysteriously vanish during a vacation and just as suddenly reappear. It's hard to put down once you start reading!
Bluebird, Bluebird is an explosive thriller about the intersection of love, race, and justice that introduces us to Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger. Having grown up in the Lone Star state, he knows that East Texas plays by its own law and order rules. His job requires him to calm the hornet's nest that the murders of a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman have stirred up, but what follows is "an exhilarating, timely novel about the collision of race and justice in America." (P.S. Locke is also a writer and producer of the Emmy-winning series Empire, so she gets double cool kid points.)
Told in short, fierce staccato narrative verse, Long Way Down takes place in the sixty powerful seconds that it takes Will to decide whether or not he's going to murder the guy who just killed his brother, Shawn. A strap. A piece. A burner. A heater. A hammer. Or, you can call it a gun, which is what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the waistband of his jeans. An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, Long Way Down is an intense and brilliant look at teen gun violence through the lens of what happens to Will during a seven-floor elevator descent.
Polly is eleven, shy, and too old for the teddy bear she takes everywhere. Suddenly reunited with her father, Nate, when he's released from prison and her mother is murdered, her life changes dramatically as she goes from standing in front of her school to riding shotgun in a stolen car. Nate takes Polly to save her life when she becomes the target of his prison enemies, but in the end, it may be Polly who saves him. She Rides Shotgun is an emotionally gripping novel that effectively upends expectations about heroes, villains, and victims.
Improvement is three compelling segments with intricate layers of stories all seamlessly interwoven into one brilliant novel about choices, consequences, improving ourselves, and how what we do in the moment can impact others—even people we don't know—in ways we could never imagine. Reyna is a young single mother who lives in Harlem with her four-year-old son, Oliver. Her eccentric aunt, Kiki, lives in the East Village, but traveled around the world and lived in Turkey when she was younger. Reyna knows her petty-criminal boyfriend Boyd (not the father of her child) isn't the best choice she's ever made, but she stays with him anyway, even during a three-month stint at Rikers. Until he hatches a cigarette smuggling scheme that finally prompts her to improve by removing herself from the situation. The events and effects that sets in motion are full of surprising twists and turns…for all of the characters.
Keep an eye out for future blogs with updates on children's literary winners! P.S. If you're not following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest yet, do it…we're really fun (and we like books).