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FOR THE PERSON WHO LIKES THEIR BOOKS AWARD PANEL-VETTED

FICTION

1. No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

Fragmentary and omniscient, incisive and sincere, No One Is Talking About This is at once a love letter to the endless scroll and a profound, modern meditation on love, language, and human connection from a singular voice in American literature.

2. The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Novel by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers

The award-winning poet and essayist makes her fiction debut with this magisterial epic—an intimate yet sweeping novel with the freshness and forcefulness of Homegoing, The Turner House, and The Water Dancer —that chronicles the journey of one American family from the centuries of the colonial slave trade through the Civil War to our own tumultuous time.

3. Abundance: A Novel by Jakob Guanzon

In an ingenious structural approach, Jakob Guanzon organizes Abundance by the amount of cash in Henry’s pocket. A new chapter starts with each debit and credit, and the novel expands and contracts, revealing the extent to which the quality of our attention is altered by the abundance—or lack thereof—that surrounds us. Set in an America of big-box stores and fast food, this incandescent debut novel trawls the fluorescent aisles of Walmart and the booths of Red Lobster to reveal the inequities and anxieties around work, debt, addiction, incarceration, and health care in America today.

4. Bewilderment by Richard Powers

With its soaring descriptions of the natural world, its tantalizing vision of life beyond, and its account of a father and son’s ferocious love, Bewilderment marks Richard Powers’s most intimate and moving novel. At its heart lies the question: How can we tell our children the truth about this beautiful, imperiled planet?

5. The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.

A singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence.

6. Great Circle: A novel by Maggie Shipstead

An unforgettable story of a daredevil female aviator determined to chart her own course in life, at any cost—Great Circle spans Prohibition-era Montana, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, New Zealand, wartime London, and modern-day Los Angeles.

7. Matrix by Lauren Groff

Equally alive to the sacred and the profane, Matrix gathers currents of violence, sensuality, and religious ecstasy in a mesmerizing portrait of consuming passion, aberrant faith, and a woman that history moves both through and around. Lauren Groff’s new novel, her first since Fates and Furies, is a defiant and timely exploration of the raw power of female creativity in a corrupted world.

8. A Passage North: A Novel by Anuk Arudpragasam

Written with precision and grace, Anuk Arudpragasam’s masterful new novel is an attempt to come to terms with life in the wake of devastation, and a poignant memorial for those lost and those still alive.

9. The Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

An interpreter has come to The Hague to escape New York and work at the International Court. A woman of many languages and identities, she is looking for a place to finally call home.

A woman of quiet passion, she confronts power, love, and violence, both in her personal intimacies and in her work at the Court. She is soon pushed to the precipice, where betrayal and heartbreak threaten to overwhelm her, forcing her to decide what she wants from her life.

10. The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken

With sentences that crackle and spark and showcase her trademark wit, McCracken traces how our closely held desires—for intimacy, atonement, comfort—bloom and wither against the indifferent passing of time. Her characters embark on journeys that leave them indelibly changed—and so do her readers. The Souvenir Museum showcases the talents of one of our finest contemporary writers as she tenderly takes the pulse of our collective and individual lives.

11. Zorrie by Laird Hunt

Spanning an entire lifetime, a life convulsed and transformed by the events of the 20th century, Laird Hunt’s extraordinary novel offers a profound and intimate portrait of the dreams that propel one tenacious woman onward and the losses that she cannot outrun. Set against a harsh, gorgeous, quintessentially American landscape, this is a deeply empathetic and poetic novel that belongs on a shelf with the classics of Willa Cather, Marilynne Robinson, and Elizabeth Strout.

12. Hell of a Book by Jason Mott

An astounding work of fiction from a New York Times bestselling author, always deeply honest and at times electrically funny, that goes to the heart of racism, police violence, and the hidden costs exacted upon Black Americans, and America as a whole.

13. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Set in Constantinople in the fifteenth century, in a small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship decades from now, Anthony Doerr’s gorgeous third novel is a triumph of imagination and compassion, a soaring story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril, who find resilience, hope—and a book. In Cloud Cuckoo Land, Doerr has created a magnificent tapestry of times and places that reflects our vast interconnectedness—with other species, with each other, with those who lived before us, and with those who will be here after we’re gone.

14. China Room: A Novel by Sunjeev Sahota

Partly inspired by award-winning author Sunjeev Sahota’s family history, China Room is at once a deft exploration of how systems of power circumscribe individual lives and a deeply moving portrait of the unconquerable human capacity to resist them. At once sweeping and intimate, lush and propulsive, itis a stunning achievement from a contemporary master.

15. Second Place by Rachel Cusk

A woman invites a famed artist to visit the remote coastal region where she lives, in the belief that his vision will penetrate the mystery of her life and landscape. His provocative presence provides the frame for a study of female fate and male privilege, of the geometries of human relationships, and of the struggle to live morally in the intersecting spaces of our internal and external worlds. With its examination of the possibility that art can both save and destroy us, Second Place is deeply affirming of the human soul, while grappling with its darkest demons.

16. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.

Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

NONFICTION

1. Tastes Like War: A Memoir by Grace M. Cho

Part food memoir, part sociological investigation, Tastes Like War is a hybrid text about a daughter’s search through intimate and global history for the roots of her mother’s schizophrenia. In her mother’s final years, Grace learned to cook dishes from her parent’s childhood in order to invite the past into the present, and to hold space for her mother’s multiple voices at the table. And through careful listening over these shared meals, Grace discovered not only the things that broke the brilliant, complicated woman who raised her—but also the things that kept her alive.

2. How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith

A deeply researched and transporting exploration of the legacy of slavery and its imprint on centuries of American history, How the Word Is Passed illustrates how some of our country’s most essential stories are hidden in plain view—whether in places we might drive by on our way to work, holidays such as Juneteenth, or entire neighborhoods like downtown Manhattan, where the brutal history of the trade in enslaved men, women, and children has been deeply imprinted.

Informed by scholarship and brought to life by the story of people living today, Smith’s debut work of nonfiction is a landmark of reflection and insight that offers a new understanding of the hopeful role that memory and history can play in making sense of our country and how it has come to be.

3. A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib

Abdurraqib writes prose brimming with jubilation and pain, infused with the lyricism and rhythm of the musicians who he loves. With care and generosity, he explains the poignancy of performances big and small, each one feeling intensely familiar and vital, both timeless and desperately urgent. Filled with sharp insight, humor, and heart, A Little Devil in America exalts the black performance that unfolds in specific moments in time and space—from midcentury Paris, to the moon, and back down again to a cramped living room in Columbus, Ohio.

4. The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee

A powerful new exploration about the self-destructive bargain of white supremacy and its rising cost to all of us—including white people—from one of today’s most insightful and influential thinkers.

The Sum of Us is a brilliant analysis of how we arrived here: divided and self-destructing, still the richest country in the world, but spiritually starved and vastly unequal. At the heart of the book are the humble stories of Americans yearning to be a part of a better America, including white supremacy’s collateral victims: white people themselves. With startling empathy, this heartfelt message from a Black woman to a multiracial America leaves us with a vision for the future of our country—one whose population has ties to every place on the globe—where we finally realize that life can be so much more than zero-sum.

5. My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland

In genre-defying vignettes, Jenn Shapland interweaves her own story with Carson McCullers’s to create a vital new portrait of one of America’s most beloved writers, and shows us how the writers we love and the stories we tell about ourselves make us who we are.

POETRY

1. The Wild Fox of Yemen by Threa Almontaser

By turns aggressively reckless and fiercely protective, always guided by faith and ancestry, Threa Almontaser’s incendiary debut asks how mistranslation can be a form of self-knowledge and survival. A love letter to the country and people of Yemen, a portrait of young Muslim womanhood in New York after 9/11, and an extraordinarily composed examination of what it means to carry in the body the echoes of what came before, Almontaser’s polyvocal collection sneaks artifacts to and from worlds, repurposing language and adapting to the space between cultures.

2. Obit by Victoria Chang

After her mother’s death, Chang wrote deep into grief by composing “obits”—from her mother’s blue dress to language itself.

3. Twice Alive by Forrest Gander

In the searing poems of his new collection, Twice Alive, the Pulitzer Prize–winner Forrest Gander addresses the exigencies of our historical moment and the intimacies, personal and environmental, that bind us to others and to the world. Drawing from his training in geology and his immersion in Sangam literary traditions, Gander invests these poems with an emotional intensity that illuminates our deep-tangled interrelations.

4. Travesty Generator Lillian-Yvonne Bertram

Like a ghost in the machine, Travesty Generator remixes programming codes and turns them to ruminate on the intersections of race and gender.

 

IN TRANSLATION

1. Rabbit Island by Elvira Navarro, Translated by Christina MacSweeney

A striking, innovative collection of stories that combines the gritty surrealism of Roberto Bolaño and David Lynch with the explosive meditations of Clarice Lispector, Rabbit Island locates madness and liberation in smoke-filled hotel rooms, mutating cities, and recurring dreams.

2. An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky, Translated by Jackie Smith

Recalling the works of W. G. Sebald, Bruce Chatwin, or Rebecca Solnit, An Inventory of Losses is a beautiful evocation of twelve specific treasures that have been lost to the world forever, and, taken as a whole, opens mesmerizing new vistas of how we can think about extinction and loss.

3. The Twilight Zone: A Novel by Nona Fernández, Translated by Natasha Wimmer

How do crimes vanish in plain sight? How does one resist a repressive regime? And who gets to shape the truths we live by and take for granted? The Twilight Zone pulls us into the dark portals of the past, reminding us that the work of the writer in the face of historical erasure is to imagine so deeply that these absences can be, for a time, spectacularly illuminated.

HOLIDAY 2021 GIFT GUIDE: AWARD NOMINEES
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