Skip to main content

The 2018 National Book Awards

Established in 1950, the National Book Award has become America's premier literary prize. In 2018, publishers submitted 1,637 books for consideration to the panels of literary experts judging this year's awards: 368 in fiction, 546 in Nonfiction, 256 in poetry, 142 in translated literature (a revitalized category that last appeared in 1983) and 325 in young people's literature. A longlist of ten books per category was announced in the middle of September, and a shortlist of five books per category was announced on October 10th. The winners were announced on Wednesday, November 14th during a black-tie ceremony hosted by actor and author Nick Offerman at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. The award for nonfiction went to The New Negro: The Life of Alan Locke by Jeffrey Stewart. The poetry award was won by Justin Phillip Reed for Indecency. The award for translated literature went to The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani. Elizabeth Acevado received the young people's literature award for The Poet X. And the centerpiece, the award for fiction, went to Sigrid Nunez for her 8th book, The Friend.

The Friend is about a woman who unexpectedly loses her best friend, who was also her mentor, and unexpectedly finds herself taking care of the dog he left behind. Her own grief is intensified by the suffering of the dog, a massive Great Dane who is clearly traumatized by his owner's disappearance. In addition, the woman is threatened with eviction because dogs are prohibited in her apartment building. She refuses to be separated from the dog except for brief periods of time, becomes isolated from her friends and colleagues and is increasingly obsessed with the dog's care. The Friend is not only about how we cope with the loss of a loved one but also about the connection between humans and their canine companions.

Sigrid Nunez has been the previous recipient of several awards, including a Whiting Award, the Rome Prize in Literature and a Berlin Prize Fellowship. Nunez, who is known as a "writer's writer," is the author of Salvation City, The Last of Her Kind, A Feather on the Breath of God, Naked Sleeper, Mitz, Sempre Susan and For Rouenna. In accepting the award, Nunez said in part: "I was lucky enough as a child to have had a mother and teachers who taught me that whatever happened in life, however bad things might get, I could always escape by reading a book...I was lucky enough to keep on meeting...people who believed that reading and writing were the best things a person could do with her life...I became a writer not because I was seeking community but rather because I thought it was something I could do alone and hidden in the privacy of my own room. How lucky to have discovered that writing books made the miraculous possible: to be removed from the world and to be a part of the world at the same time."

In addition to the book awards, the ceremony honored Isabel Allende with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She is the first Spanish-language author to receive this award. In accepting the award, which has previously been won by, among others, Toni Morrison, John Updike and last year Annie Proulx, Allende said in part: "I write to preserve memory against the erosion of oblivion and to bring people together. I believe in the power of stories. If we listen to another person's story, if we tell our own story, we start to heal from division and hatred. Because we realize that the similarities that bring us together are many more than the differences that separate us."

I read The Friend when it was released earlier this year. It's powerfully written and filled with some magical realism that takes the story in unexpected directions. It's a short book and one that will resonate with dog lovers and with anyone who has suffered the loss of a close friend. Among the other shortlisted fiction titles, Lauren Groff's dark and intense short story collection Florida was widely considered the front runner, and many were pulling for Rebecca Makkai's The Great Believers, a novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris. All three are worthy reads for cold winter days and nights. Enjoy them.


Popular posts from this blog

The 2018 Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist

March is Women's History Month, and Thursday, March 8th was International Women's Day. So it is timely and appropriate that the 2018 longlist for The Women's Prize for Fiction was released on Wednesday, March 7th. The Women's Prize for Fiction is an award that celebrates the best full-length fiction written each year by women. The idea for the Prize stemmed from the release of the 1991 Booker Prize shortlist, which did not include a single novel written by a woman. Although in the early 1990s, 60% of the novels published in the United Kingdom were written by women, by 1992 only 10% of the novelists ever to appear on the Booker Prize shortlist had been female The Women's Prize for Fiction was developed in response to this disparity. It was first awarded in 1996 (then known as the Orange Prize for Fiction) and is the United Kingdom's most prestigious annual book award for fiction written by a woman.

The judging panel for The Women's Prize for Fiction is made…

Winter by Ali Smith

Winter is the season when nature lies dormant, when the light is at its low point, when the world seems dead. Ali Smith's captivating new novel, Winter, begins with an extraordinary list of all the things that are "dead," which seems to encompass everything -- "God was dead: to begin with," Smith writes, and not just God, but chivalry, history, the welfare state, neoliberalism, hope, TV, marriage, flowers, religion, the media, the internet and love. But if there is anything Winterisn't, it's dead. Like the rest of this wonderful novel, this list of supposedly dead things is filled with vitality, word play and teasing fun.

Ali Smith was born in Inverness, Scotland in 1962. She is the author of nine novels and five short story collections. Her first collection of short stories, Free Love and Other Stories, won the Saltire First Book Award in 1995. Her second novel, Hotel World, won three awards and was shortlisted for both the Orange Prize and the Man Bo…

The Extraordinary Playfulness of the English Language

(Or, what is the difference between "continual" and "continuous?"*)
The Wallingford Public Library hired Dan McDonnell in 2014 as a "security monitor." This means that his primary job is to keep tabs on the general safety of the patrons, the staff and the library building itself. Over the years, Dan has been drawn into what he calls "other duties as assigned." In Dan's case, this has included fixing the 3D printer, painting picture frames, assembling furniture, tuning a ukulele and other odd jobs.  One time he was asked to help Santa Claus put on his boots!

Starting at the beginning of 2018, Dan added a new "other duty" to his roster, albeit a temporary one. He started stocking a quadrant of the Staff Picks display in the North Main Book Nook. And as you will learn from the following blog post, Dan is absolutely captivated by the English language. Read on...

When I was much younger I had a deep love of reading that was eroded by t…