A few days after the National Book Development Board announced the winners of the 2016 Philippines National Book Awards (which I mentioned in my column last Thursday), the US National Book Foundation released its counterpart list, both bodies giving much-needed and much-appreciated recognition and incentives to writers.
The US National Book Awards nominates twenty works in four categories each year, five nominees per category.
This year’s winners are March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Young People’s Literature); The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutsky (Poetry); Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (Nonfiction); The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Fiction).
The writers over at Vox.com have read all 20 nominated books. Here are their reviews of the winning works:
Constance Grady on March: Book Three—Congress member John Lewis, who led the House sit-in for gun regulation this summer, is the last living member of the Big Six of the civil rights movement. That makes him more or less the closest thing America has to a real live superhero, and March is his origin story...Book Three, the final volume, is the darkest of the March trilogy, starting with the Birmingham church bombings and climaxing with Bloody Sunday itself. “I thought I was going to die,” says Lewis in one unforgettable panel, in a pool of his own blood, as police officers swing their batons around him.
Constance Grady on The Performance of Becoming Human— The second most bleak thing about The Performance of Becoming Human is the way it renders our world as an Orwellian dystopia, all tortured political prisoners and corrupt capitalist bureaucrats. The most bleak thing is that it considers itself to be complicit in that dystopia… Borzutsky’s language is purposefully rough, even ugly; he stays away from anything that might be described as lyrical. That deliberate roughness gives lines like this their force and power…[This] is not an easy book to read, but it is a powerful one.
Aja Romano on Stamped from the Beginning—A scholar of African-American history, Ibram X. Kendi kicks off this fiery book with equally fiery words from the past: an 1860 indictment from then-Sen. Jefferson Davis, later president of the Confederacy, that “this Government was not founded by negroes nor for negroes … but by white men for white men.” Kendi admits that he is not writing to change the minds of those who produce and espouse racist ideas. Rather, in his honesty about how deeply he himself had held multiple racist ideas before embarking on the historical odyssey of this book, he gives the reader permission to accompany him on that eye-opening journey…Kendi leaves plenty of room for self-questioning, and for drawing connections between the racist apologetics of the past and those of the present. The process makes for a compelling, thoroughly enlightening, unsettling, and necessary read.
Todd VanDerWerff on The Underground Railroad—What’s most surprising about The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead’s hugely acclaimed novel about slaves seeking their freedom along the titular route, is what a page turner it is… [The book] takes the form of a 19th-century picaresque—a vignette-strewn travel novel, featuring one character’s visits to several unlikely locales (think Gulliver’s Travels for an early version of the form)… Whitehead …[explores] the ways that white Americans could know—can still know—that slavery was a moral abomination, but also benefit from its existence, how they could keep from noticing the double exposure that was their lives by cropping out the unpleasant information.
Three of these four books explore issues of race in America, a timely topic given Donald Trump’s win of the US presidency and the post-election rise of hate crimes against non-whites.
Do these books sound interesting to you? Add to these the PH National Book Award-winning books, and those of the 2016 Man Booker Prize (winners announced last month), and you have a mighty list of works to choose from for holiday buying, for your own burgeoning library and as gifts. Happy Tsundoku!
Dr. Ortuoste is a California-based writer. Follow her on Facebook: Jenny Ortuoste, Twitter: @jennyortuoste, Instagram: @jensdecember.