Today the National Book Awards were announced, and while most of the discussion is about the fiction list (and authors that got left off), I thought I’d pull the nonfiction list and share some impressions.
The five finalists this year are:
- Barbara Demick: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
- John W. Dower: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq
- Patti Smith: Just Kids
- Justin Spring: Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade
- Megan K. Stack: Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War
I haven’t read a single book on this list, which seems to be a common refrain (for the fiction, haven’t seen much discussion on the nonfiction). But, I looked them up and have a few thoughts (and a poll for which book or books I should read and review).
Barbara Demick: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
In Nothing to Envy, Los Angeles Times Bejing bureau Demick looks at the lives of six ordinary North Koreans. The country is super secretive and not at all open to journalists, so any in-depth reporting from inside has to be interesting. The book website says Demick reconstructed life by interviewing defectors, and looking at smuggled photos and videos.
John W. Dower: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq
Historian John W. Dower’s Cultures of War is a comparative book looking at “the dynamics and pathologies of war in modern times.” Dower uses four major events – Peark Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, and the invasion of Iraq for the war on terror – as lenses to look behaviors in conflict.
Patti Smith: Just Kids
Just Kids by Patti Smith is described as both a love story and an elegy, chronicling Smith’s relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Justin Spring: Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade
The full title of Secret Historian by Justin Spring is pretty broad. Using “never-before-seen diaries, journals, and sexual records” of professor and novelist Samuel M. Steward, Spring puts together the life of a man who left academia to become a tattoo artist and novelist.
Megan K. Stack: Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War
Just weeks after 9/11, Stack, a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, was sent to Afghanistan and Pakistan, then Iraq, Lebanon, and other war-ravaged countries. In her memoir Every Man in This Village Is a Liar, Stack recounts what she saw in the combat zone and after.
So there you have it – an interesting mix of current affairs, politics, history, and memoir. There’s a pretty thick war theme going on, plus other ideas about counterculture and historical exploration.
And now, the poll! Which of the 2010 National Book Award finalists should I absolutely read? I’ll leave the poll open until next Monday, then announce the winner in the Monday Tally.
I’m curious – given what you as readers know about me (some of you a lot more than others), which of these books do you think I’m personally most interested in? Which of these are you most interested in reading?