Your Guide to the 2018 National Book Award Nominees

I am a sucker for a must-read book list. A hundred-books-to-read-in-a-lifetime list? Sold. A ranking of thirty literary fiction books you just have to read before you turn thirty? You’ve got my attention. If someone just rattled off a bunch of those recently-published books that are actually just Wattpad fanfiction in a light disguise under the heading “You Have To Read These,” there’s a 75 percent chance I’d at least consider adding them to my to-read list.

That’s why the end of the year is the perfect storm for me. It’s when all of the nominees for the prestigious literary awards are announced, and each one of those lists is essentially a must-read list in and of itself. Even with the Nobel Prize for Literature not happening this year, it’s a lot to take in.

Simply put, I do not have the time to read dozens of heavy/intense/depressing/heavily stylized books right now. (Or ever.) So a brisk comb-through of the just-announced 2018 National Book Award Finalists is in order.

image from Publishers Weekly


A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley

My tiny synopsis: This short story collection is an exploration of black masculinity, through nine different perspectives and moments.

Promising review excerpt: “Brinkley’s stories offer penetrating perspectives and stirring tragedies.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon


Florida by Lauren Groff

My tiny synopsis: A short story collection that is all about Florida, and is about as funny and frightening as you would expect from a whole book about that hell state.

Promising review excerpt: “Groff’s skillful prose, self-awareness, and dark humor leaven the bleakness, making this a consistently rewarding collection.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon


Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson

My tiny synopsis: When his mother is sent to jail, Sequoyah, a Cherokee teenager, is placed in foster care. There, he meets and bonds with Rosemary, another Native American teenager with a turbulent past.

Promising review excerpt: “Far more than a mere coming-of-age story, this is a remarkable and moving novel.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon


The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

My tiny synopsis: A story in two perspectives: the first, Yale, a museum curator just beginning to find success in 1985 Chicago, when the AIDS epidemic begins to touch everyone he knows. The second, Fiona, a woman in contemporary Paris searching for her missing daughter when she is forced to reexamine her time in the middle of the epidemic in Chicago.

Promising review excerpt: “This novel will undoubtedly touch the hearts and minds of readers.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon


The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

My tiny synopsis: When a woman’s best friend dies, she is unexpectedly saddled with caring for her Great Dane. The woman and the dog come to love each other SO MUCH.

Promising review excerpt: “This elegant novel explores both rich memories and day-to-day mundanity, reflecting the way that, especially in grief, the past is often more vibrant than the present.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon


image from Publishers Weekly



The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation by Colin G. Calloway

My tiny synopsis: The title just about covers it: this is a nonfiction exploration of George Washington’s relationships with Native Americans. This book is 620 pages long and I’m assuming at least 20 of them are for that title alone. (Buh dum ch.)

Promising review excerpt: “George Washington’s life [is] a lens for uncovering forgotten history in this detailed account of interactions between Native and white Americans during the latter half of the 18th century.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon


American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic by Victoria Johnson

My tiny synopsis: This guy David Hosack was one of four guys who were at that Hamilton-Burr duel, so if you like Hamilton this will probably interest you. Hosack was an excellent doctor and botanist, apparently, and plants are cool. 

Promising review excerpt: “History buffs and avid gardeners will find Hosack an appealing and intriguing figure who doubles as an exemplar of the qualities of a vibrant and expanding America.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon


Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh

My tiny synopsis: This book is being called the successor to Nickel and Dimed, and is an examination of the class divide, financial stereotyping, and generational poverty in America.

Promising review excerpt: “Smarsh’s raw and intimate narrative exposes a country of economic inequality that ‘has failed its children.’” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon


The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C. Stewart

My tiny synopsis: This is a biography of Alain Locke, a mentor to figures like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston and the man who has been called the father of the Harlem Renaissance.

Promising review excerpt: “Stewart creates a poignant portrait of a formidable yet flawed genius who navigated the cultural boundaries and barriers of his time while nurturing an enduring African-American intellectual movement.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon


We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights by Adam Winkler

My tiny synopsis: This book details the quest of corporations to gain constitutional rights, and the ways that the rights of the corporation now largely equal the rights of the individual. I imagine it makes everyone who reads it screaming mad.

Promising review excerpt: “Winkler employs an evocative, fast-paced storytelling style, making for an entertaining and enlightening book that will likely complicate the views of partisans on both sides of the issue.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon


image from Publishers Weekly



The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

My tiny synopsis: This is about a girl in Harlem who feels unheard but for her poetry, until she joins her school’s slam poetry club.

Promising review excerpt: “At its heart, this is a complex and sometimes painful exploration of love in its many forms, with [self-love] reigning supreme.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon


The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

My tiny synopsis: I’ve got three words for you: spy elf historian. Also, that title though.

Promising review excerpt: “[B]lends the absurd and the timely to explore commonality, long-standing conflict, and who gets to write a world’s history.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon


The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

My tiny synopsis: I specifically remember reading the synopsis of this book several months ago, saying “no, too sad,” and putting it down. Mason Buttle is an overweight boy with learning disabilities who is ruthlessly bullied, and who is being investigated in the murder of his best friend. Then apparently that wasn’t sad enough, because his other friend goes missing too. Even the synopsis overwhelms. 

Promising review excerpt: “Poignant and suspenseful, Mason’s story crystallizes an adolescent boy’s joys and fears as he comes into his own.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon


The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

My tiny synopsis: Charlie’s dad, a sharecropper, dies, and a Very Bad Dude named Cap’n Buck comes to collect money Charlie doesn’t have. He agrees to track down some fugitives in order to forgive the debt – but discovers the fugitives are really runaway slaves.

Promising review excerpt: “Written in persuasive dialect and piloted by a hero who finds the courage to do what he knows is right, Curtis’s unsparing novel pulls no punches as it illuminates an ugly chapter of American history.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon


Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

My tiny synopsis: More sadness! This is an autobiographical graphic novel detailing the author’s childhood, during which he often tried to seem normal as his family suffered from addiction.

Promising review excerpt: “This nuanced graphic memoir portrays a whole family and tells a story of finding identity among a life’s complications.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon



Well, this was not helpful even a little bit. Note to self: Next time you want to avoid adding a bunch of books to your to-read list, at points in your life when you can afford neither the time or the money, don’t look into potentially award-winning books.

And for the love of all that is holy, don’t also read a bunch of glowing reviews of them.

All of these books look amazing and these are only three main categories. For more information on the short-list, including the nominees in the categories of Poetry and Translated Literature (a new addition this year), click here. Keep an eye out for the announcement of the winners November 14!

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