2014 National Book Awards Finalists

NBA Finalist

Today, the finalists for the National Book Awards, five each in the four categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature, were announced. (Thanks go out to Suey for the heads up!)

Here they are:

NBA 2014 F
Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press/ Grove/Atlantic)
Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner/ Simon & Schuster)
Phil Klay, Redeployment (The Penguin Press/ Penguin Group (USA))
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (Alfred A. Knopf/ Random House)
Marilynne Robinson, Lila (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

NBA 2014 N
Roz Chast, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury)
Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes (Metropolitan Books/ Henry Holt and Company)
John Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (W.W. Norton & Company)
Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Edward O. Wilson, The Meaning of Human Existence (Liveright Publishing Corporation/ W.W. Norton & Company)

NBA 2014 P
Louise Glück, Faithful and Virtuous Night (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Fanny Howe, Second Childhood (Graywolf Press)
Maureen N. McLane, This Blue (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Fred Moten, The Feel Trio (Letter Machine Editions)
Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press)

NBA 2014 YPL
Eliot Schrefer, Threatened (Scholastic Press)
Steve Sheinkin, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights (Roaring Brook Press/ Macmillan Publishers)
John Corey Whaley, Noggin (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/ Simon & Schuster)
Deborah Wiles, Revolution: The Sixties Trilogy, Book Two (Scholastic Press)
Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books/ Penguin Group (USA))

Well, what do you think? I’ve read nary a one of them, though several are on my TBR. For more information about this year’s awards, including the 2014 longlists, head over to the official website of the National Book Award. The winner in each category will be announced on November 19, 2014.

2014 Man Booker Prize Winner

2014 Man Booker Prize

The winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize was announced today! And the winner is . . .

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (Chatto & Windus)

Though this year was the first year all titles in English were eligible for the prize, without regard to the nationality of the author, an Australian took the prize.

I’m really looking forward to reading this one. I found the blurb to be intriguing:

August, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. His life is a daily struggle to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from pitiless beatings. Until he receives a letter that will change him forever.

Moving deftly from the POW camp to contemporary Australia, from the experiences of Dorrigo and his comrades to those of the Japanese guards, this savagely beautiful novel tells a story of love, death, and family, exploring the many forms of good and evil, war and truth, guilt and transcendence, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.

For more about this year’s Booker contest, check out the 2014 shortlist and the 2014 longlist.

Do you follow the Booker prize? Do you plan to read this year’s winning book?

Third Quarter 2014 Summation


Here is an abstract of my literary doings during the third quarter of 2014.

Books Read

July 2014
The Awakening of Miss Prim, by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera – 7/8/2014
Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg – 7/10/2014
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien (Book 5, Book 6) – 7/17/2014
My Loving Vigil Keeping, by Carla Kelly – 7/21/2014
The Secret History, by Donna Tartt – 7/28/2015
How To Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran – 7/31/2014

August 2014
The Color of Water, by James McBride – 8/5/2014
The World’s Strongest Librarian, by Josh Hanagarne – 8/12/2014
Edenbrooke, by Julianne Donaldson (Audio) – 8/13/2014
The Children Act, by Ian McEwan – 8/17/2014
Blackmoore, by Julianne Donaldson (Audio) – 8/21/2014
Cut Me Free, by J.R. Johansson – 8/22/2012

September 2014
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain (Audio) – 9/5/2014
Hansel & Gretel, by Neil Gaiman – 9/8/2014
Maus, by Art Spiegelman – 9/17/2014
Maus II, by Art Spiegelman – 9/17/2014
Smile, by Raina Telgemeier – 9/22/2014
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer – 9/23/2014
The Babysitters Club: Kristy’s Great Idea, by Raina Tegemeier – 9/30/2014

Third Quarter Total = 19
Year-to-Date Total = 43

I finished The Lord of the Rings this quarter! And I am working, ever so slowly, on The Goldfinch, which is why my reading of late has been limited to mostly graphic novels and book club selections. I’m on track to land somewhere between 50 and 75 books for the year, which works for me.

Book Club

I was a better book club member this quarter!

My neighborhood book club took its annual July hiatus and then read The Color of Water and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind in August and September respectively. And I read them both! They were both excellent and outside of what we usually read. Score.

The Third Thursday Book Club had a theme, instead of a specific book selection, for July of fairy tale retellings. For my part, I read several of the Grimm’s fairy tales as retold by Philip Pullman. We read The World’s Strongest Librarian in August and had the author, local librarian Josh Hanagarne, come to our meeting! I reread the book in preparation. In September, we tackled our first graphic novel, Maus I, and I not only read it, I read the second book, Maus II.

I hope I can keep up this book club momentum during the last quarter of the year. We have some great books coming up.


No challenge progress to report this quarter, though I have been working through this year’s Pulitzer winner for fiction, The Goldfinch. I’ll at least have that to report next quarter.

The Pulitzer Project – 12/87
The Printz Project – 9/15 (+9 honor books)
The Newbery Project – 27/93 (+13 honor books)

Third Quarter Highlights

That’s it. That’s what happened in the third quarter of 2014. Thanks to everyone who stopped by my blog!

Looking Ahead

Here are the things I’m hoping to get to in the fourth quarter of 2014:

  • Book club selections, as always! These will include The Graveyard Book, The Jungle Book, Unbroken, Longing for Home, The Catcher in the Rye, and Pope Joan. Several of these have been on my list for some time.
  • Finishing The Goldfinch! I’m about 83% of the way done, so I should be able to mark it off soon.
  • Read whichever book wins the Booker prize on October 14, 2014. Because the Booker winner almost always gets a place in the Tournament of Books, I want to tackle it early this year.

What are you looking forward to reading in the next few months?

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Review: How To Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran

How To Build A Girl

How To Build A GirlI received this book for free from the publisher via Edelweiss. All content and opinions are my own.

I was inspired by this pre-publication readalong to seek out a copy of How To Build a Girl. And I’m glad I did.

Here’s a portion of the blurb:

What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes—and build yourself.

It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontës—but without the dying-young bit.

By sixteen, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

Johanna. I’m still not sure what I feel for her. It’s something. Something between admiration and pity, leaning toward the admiration side. But, I think, more telling is that I apparently feel more for Caitlin Moran. Clearly, this book is based in someway on her own life, since she lived in similar circumstances as a teen and worked at a music magazine at a young age. It definitely felt more memoir-ish than novel-ish. There were also certain sections that became didactic (like the bit on cynicism), where it seemed the author stepped in and was lecturing. And I often felt that Johanna was not cognizant ad self-aware enough to make the observations she made. (She is, of course, slightly older as she writes the book, but that fact only enhanced the memoir-feel of it.) But I was willing to forgive most of this. It’s funny and blatant and well-written. I highlighted the crap out of it.

I still feel the burn of shame from when I interviewed a band and pronounced “paradigm” as spelled, and they mockingly corrected me. This is the terrible thing about learning everything from books–sometimes you don’t know how to say the words. You know the ideas, but you cannot discuss them with people with any confidence. And so you stay silent. It is the curse of the autodidact. Or “autodidiact,” as I said, on the same shameful day. Oh, that was a conversation that went so wrong.

Is this YA? Johanna is fourteen at the beginning and seventeen by the end. So, if the age of the protagonist is the defining characteristic, yes it is. But the subject matter and descriptions are decidedly not what you currently find in the YA section. Johanna is at once a child and an adult. Compare the following two quotes:

I dealt with this with all the coping mechanisms I knew: lying under the bed with the dog, reading Little Women and eating jam sandwiches dipped in instant hot chocolate.

In the end, I find what works is to stop thinking about what I am thinking about this particular sexual intercourse . . . and start thinking about what he’s thinking, instead. . . . There is very little female narrative of what it’s like to fuck and be fucked. I will realize that, as a seventeen-year-old girl, I couldn’t really hear my own voice during this sex. I had no idea what my voice was at all.

The idea in that last quote above is what really stuck with me from the book. There is very little female narrative about sexual experience. Johanna talks about masturbation and a number of sexual interactions. And it made me uncomfortable to read about it. It made me uncomfortable to include that quote above in this review. But I applaud Moran’s willingness to both include it and point it out.

So what do you do when you build yourself — only to realize you built yourself with the wrong things? You rip it up and start again. That is the work of your teenage years — to build up and tear down and build up again, over and over, endlessly, like speeded-up film of cities during boom times and wars. To be fearless and endless, in your reinventions — to keep twisting on nineteen, going bust, and dealing in again, and again. Invent, invent, invent.

How To Build a Girl was sad and, well, a bit painful. But I’m glad it exists, and I’m glad I read it. It’s about a teenage girl finding out who she is, building herself. It just made me wish she had had a bit more guidance, a few more friendly influences, and a little bit more help and understanding. Perhaps this book is meant to be a form of guidance to those teenagers who don’t have ready sources of it. I hope this book finds those souls.

How To Build a Girl is available today. Find Caitlin Moran on her website and on Twitter.

Banned Books Week 2014

Freadom 2014

Hey, kids (and adults)!  It’s Banned Books Week this week.  And I’m really feeling it this year.  I just recently finished (and enjoyed) three frequently challenged books – Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain and Maus I & Maus II, by Art Spiegelman.

Book challenges have been really catching my attention for the last several months.  Recent book challenges are summarized nicely in this round-up at BookRiot, which points out that the bodies (most often school boards) determining whether a book will be removed often do not even read the challenged book.  It is very disturbing to me when the views of one (or of a small group) result in the banishment of a book.  It is even more disturbing that book challenges frequently target books about minorities: “Diversity is slim throughout all genres of books and across all age groups — except when it comes to book challenges.”

But that is what Banned Books Week is all about – celebrating and seeking to protect the right and the freedom to read.  For some interesting and depressing information, check out the ALA’s frequently challenged books lists.  The top ten list for 2013 included the following:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
    Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

Of these, I have read (and really enjoyed) four. What banned books have you read and liked?

Head over to the official Banned Books Week website to find out more about banned books and this week’s celebrations of the right to read.  (My personal favorite is the Lawrence Public Library‘s banned books trading cards.  View the editions here: 2014 | 2013 | 2012.)