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Thursday, November 17, 2016

National Book Award Wrap Up with Readalikes

Last night, the National Book Foundation gave out the National Book Awards. These are the first major awards of the year.

Before I get to talking about the winners, I want to remind you that the NBF named a brand new, young Executive Director back in February, Lisa Lucas.  Here is an article with quotes from Lucas from NPR about her appointment.

Her influence at this, our “National” book foundation can be seen in everything the NBF has done since, but I was very struck by the statement she put out just before the awards here
This year, the National Book Awards ceremony comes at a time when the nation has rarely seemed more divided. The bitter presidential campaign exposed a fault line in the United States that will not easily be repaired. And while there's no one simple answer, Lisa Lucas, head of the National Book Foundation, recommends one way to understand the other side: read. 
"My life is small" she says, "and I think books are a way to make your life larger."
Click here to read the full article, but in it she explains how we can learn to understand each other more if we each read something that is not meant for “you."

This is something I have been advocating for on the blog for years, but I am just one librarian, it is so nice to see the person who heads our largest book based foundation remind everyone of this fact.  

Books are a wonderful way to explore the world and open yourself up to new places and ideas. We already know people do this with historical fiction or arm chair travel titles. But we can also do it for today’s current ideas, issues, and diverse points of view. Our job as Readers Advisors is to suggest those titles to people. I will explain below but first.....

...the awards. Here is a photo of the 4 winners.

You can click here to get to the National Book Foundation website. Once there, if you click on each cover, you will get information about that book and an interview with the author.

I would like to say a few things about the winners from an RA standpoint in relation to helping readers.

I will start with the YA winner, March: Book Three. I feel like this win is for the entire trilogy. I liken it to when the final Lord of the Rings movie won the Oscar. It really was to honor the entire series.

Hopefully, you did not need this National Book Award honor to know about March or even to have bought it for your library. This series is already a classic in the format, along with Maus and Persepolis. All three accurately, emotionally, and compellingly recount a trying time in history through the eyes of those who had to live through the struggle. So yes, suggest other books about the Civil Rights movement to people who like March, but also give them books like Maus and Persepolis.

Graphic Journalism is also another offshoot of nonfiction graphic novels. Joe Sacco is one of the best at this. Click here for my 2014 review of his graphic novel, The Great War. In that post I talk about him and his other works as well as give some links to other graphic journalists’ work.

Nonfiction Graphic Novels have been trending for a while, but with this win, they have broken through into the mainstream conversation. What is wonderful about this format in nonfiction is that you can SHOW the emotional impact of history in a way that words alone cannot. It is also a wonderful entry point to history for all ages. Families can read these books together and discuss them.

So please, don’t just suggest Civil Rights books as readalikes for this title now that there is interest.  That is only 1 avenue you can pursue for suggestions. Please remember to suggest other first person accounts of historical struggles for human rights.

Now onto the Fiction winner, Underground Railroad [which I am reading right now]. Again, you should not have needed this award to have ordered this title for your library. Whitehead is a library favorite. All of his books should be on your shelf. Here is my review of Zone One.

In this case, for readalikes I think your best bet is to mostly focus on books that look at slavery from a unique perspective and are also compelling reads. It is hard to write a book that is both compelling and thought provoking, but Whitehead manages to do that with every book he writes. 

The book I think would be most interesting to fans of Underground Railroad is The Known World by Edward P Jones.  You can click here to read my review which also includes my list of four other titles that take a "different look at the history of slavery" in America.

I would also suggest two titles that have come out since I wrote that review but would fit into that list easily:


Now to take the suggestions further outside the box. Here are some fiction titles that are compelling and thought provoking about other struggles for freedom. [all links go to my reviews with even more readalike options]:


Finally, and to segue-way into the nonfiction winner, Stamped from the Beginning is also an excellent readalike for Underground Railroad.

Stamped From the Beginning takes a scholarly and in depth look at racism in America. It is remarkable in how the author, Ibram X. Kendi takes an emotionally charged issue and breaks it down to a matter of fact argument, yet still presents the message in a compelling and accessible package.

A good companion book would be last year’s Nonfiction winner, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. You can read my review of that title with many readalike options here.

But, I also immediately thought of pairing this title with White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg. 

My point here is the same one I have been making throughout this entire post and as Ms. Lucas points out in her statements I linked to way back at the beginning of this post. Yes, you can pair this title with other books about racial injustice here in America, but you cannot forget about other titles that deal with either the other side of the equation OR that look at similar larger issues.
Please if you learn NOTHING else from me ever it needs to be this-- think about your readalike suggestions from a larger, more big picture, perspective. WHY someone likes a book goes WAY BEYOND it’s subject headings and specific plot points.  And, to take this one step further, try to give a FULL PICTURE view by offering titles on all sides of an issue, not just the same side as the book you are trying to match. Again, as Lucas said, pair the book that is NOT for you with the one that is. 
[I remind myself of the importance of this as I struggle through watching Fox News at least once a day. I am doing it to understand the full picture.]

Back to the awards ceremony. They also honored the 5 Under 35 Winners last night [picture below]. You can go here for the NBF’s 5 Under 35 page which also has easy links to the list of designees from every year going back to 2006! I took a little time to peruse some of the older winners.  It was quite interesting. Some are household names now, while others are still a bit obscure, but all make for a good suggestion to your patrons looking for “award winning” fiction.

Finally, don’t forget to use the backlist of all award winners and the long lists from this year and previous years. These lists are an easy go-to option for helping readers that want “good books” and proven winners while they are waiting on the hold list for the current winners. You can use this link to get all of the information easily. [The previous years are accessible in the left gutter.]

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