I’ve recently gotten very into checking out book award nominees to add some more depth to my reading list. The National Book Award Longlist came out on September 13, and I immediately added seven books to my list. The National Book Award was established in 1936, but was abandoned during WWII. The first award was given in 1950, and eligible nominees are books written and published in the US. It’s a highly sought after award with a whole lot of history, so I know when I add a book to my list from these nominations, it’s going to be good. I focused my top 5 national book award nominees on the fiction category, but there are so many good books on the list I might have to make another post dedicated to the other categories. Let’s get started!
1. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
This story starts off innocently enough — two lovebirds are finally married and they are the epitome of the American Dream. They are madly in love, and nothing can tear them apart — except maybe an unexpected stint in prison? When Roy is arrested for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit, their love is tested in more ways than one. Celestial, though fiercely independent, turns to her best friend since childhood, Andre, during her time of need, and learns more about herself and her marriage than she ever thought possible. When Roy’s conviction is turned over after five years, it leaves the once sturdy couple in a rocky place. If this doesn’t immediately make you want to pick up this book, I don’t know what will.
2. Florida by Lauren Groff
I’ve been resisting reading Florida for as long as I think is possible. I read Lauren Groff’s book Fates and Furies in 2017, and it took quite a bit of time to get into, so I wasn’t sure how great a collection of short stories will be. I’ve also been resisting picking this one up since it’s about Florida — the place I called home for 18 years. There’s a lot to love about Florida (family, Disney World, and beaches to name a few), but there’s also a lot to hate (snakes, humidity, and more snakes). Groff’s short stories travel throughout Florida’s history and across the state to tell tales of prowling panthers and struggling families. She talks about everything Florida has to offer at face value, but also the universal feelings of rage, loneliness, and ultimately, happiness that the human race experiences no matter where they are in the world. I’ve heard truly amazing things about this collection, so I think it’s time I finally put my worries aside and find out all Groff has to offer about my home state.
3. The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
We never know what to do when someone close to us passes away, but it’s even harder when a dog is thrown into the mix. The main character of Nunez’s latest book has to deal with taking care of a beloved Great Dane when her best friend dies unexpectedly. An unlikely bond forms between woman and dog when they learn to lean on each other during difficult times. This book has been on my TBR list since I knew it was coming out. Being placed on the National Book Award Longlist is just another reason to move it higher on my list.
4. There There by Tommy Orange
In his breakout novel, Tommy Orange writes a multigenerational story that follows twelve characters learning how to handle their Native American identity in the modern day. Key characters include young Orvil who has taught himself how to dance through YouTube, Dene who is grieving his uncle’s death, and Jacquie who is returning to her family sober for the first time in a long time. I read a book about Native American culture in college, and I found it really eye-opening. I’d always learned a lot about Native American’s growing up in Florida, but there’s something very different about reading a fictional story featuring Native American characters. I was hooked at “twelve perspectives” — the Native American angle is just a bonus.
5. Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson
Weirdly enough, here’s another book about Native American culture that I’m dying to read. (See what I did there?) Where the Dead Sit Talking follows a young boy, Sequoyah, on his journey through foster care. After his mother is arrested, Sequoyah is taken in by the Troutts. While staying with them, he meets another young Native American, Rosemary. Together they start to uncover their dark pasts and learn to trust in one another…maybe? I find this story fascinating because it features a minority population and talks about the foster care system — something I’ve been deeply fascinated about since middle school. Definitely adding it to the list.
I love looking through award nomination lists because I always find a ton of books to add to my TBR pile. Are there any National Book Award Longlist nominees you’re looking forward to reading? Let me know in the comments below.