The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) recently announced its 2012 finalists for outstanding books. While there are a handful of titles I’ve been planning to read, there are also several books I’d never even heard of–which is surprisingly common with the NBCC annual picks.
Here are the titles I’m most looking forward to reading:
10. The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande
When Reyna Grande’s father leaves his wife and three children behind in a village in Mexico to make the dangerous trek across the border to the United States, he promises he will soon return from “El Otro Lado” (The Other Side) with enough money to build them a dream house where they can all live together. His promises become harder to believe as months turn into years, and their eventual reunion is rocky. In this extraordinary memoir, award-winning writer Reyna Grande vividly brings to life her tumultuous early years, capturing all the confusion and contradictions of childhood, especially one spent torn between two parents and two countries.
9. Magnificence by Lydia Millet
This novel presents Susan Lindley, a woman adrift after her husband’s death and the dissolution of her family who embarks on a new phase in her life after inheriting her uncle’s sprawling mansion and its vast collection of taxidermy. In a setting both wondrous and absurd, Susan defends her legacy from freeloading relatives and explores the mansion’s unknown spaces. Funny and heartbreaking, Magnificence explores evolution and extinction, children and parenthood, loss and revelation.
8. Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt
In this astonishing and profound work, an irreverent sleuth traces the riddle of existence from the ancient world to modern times.
7. In the House of the Interpreter by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
In his second memoir, Kenyan novelist, poet, playwright, and literary critic Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o recounts his childhood and coming of age in British-ruled Kenya in the 1950s, against the backdrop of the tumultuous Mau Mau Uprising for independence and Kenyan sovereignty. In the House of the Interpreter hauntingly describes the formative experiences of a young man who would become a world-class writer and, as a political dissident, a moral compass.
6. House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East by Anthony Shadid
A crowning achievement in the career of revered journalist Anthony Shadid—who died while on assignment in Syria in February 2012—House of Stone tells the story of rebuilding Shadid’s ancestral home in Lebanon amid political strife.
5. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs a work camp for orphans. He becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon.
4. NW by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragi-comic new novel follows four Londoners as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their London is a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end. Depicting the modern urban zone – familiar to town-dwellers everywhere – Zadie Smith’s NW is a quietly devastating novel of encounters, mercurial and vital, like the city itself.
3. Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon
Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so. All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far from the Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance—all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.
2. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.
1. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
After a ferocious firefight in Iraq is captured by news crews, the soldiers involved are sent on a media-intensive nationwide Victory Tour to reinvigorate public support for the war. Now, on Thanksgiving Day, they find themselves slated to be part of the halftime show alongside Destiny’s Child. Over the course of this day, Specialist William “Billy” Lynn, a nineteen-year-old Texas native, will begin to understand difficult truths about himself, his country, his struggling family, and his brothers-in-arms—soldiers both dead and alive. In the final few hours before returning to Iraq, Billy will drink and brawl, yearn for home and mourn those missing, face a heart-wrenching decision, and discover pure love and a bitter wisdom far beyond his years.
Will you be reading any of these titles? Did any other NBCC picks stand out to you?
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