Tag Archives: national book award

My Summer Reading List 2014

Summer reading, ready to go. c. Elissa Field

Summer reading, ready to go. c. Elissa Field

What is the first thing I did with my days off, when spring semester ended? READ. Read read read. I can’t say why, but more than any other year, it felt so good to spend full days reading as summer started this year. 

The first few books I read were ones from my Winter 2014 Reading List, including Amy Greene’s Long Man and Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena(I reviewed Constellation here).

Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

I highly recommend both of them and am excited for the successes both books have seen.

But now it’s time to get excited about the latest must-reads — it’s time for My Summer Reading List 2014! Please do share your own reading recommendations or must-reads in the comments. We all love to learn about great new titles.

*     *     *     *     *

Fiction

  • Michael Cunningham, The Snow Queen (2014). This made my radar after watching Cunningham give a reading (online) at Bart College. I first fell in love with his writing when I stumbled on a short story in the defunct DoubleTake Magazine — before The Hours — which had me guessing he’d become a notable writer. Snow Queen releases this summer.
  • Aminatta Forna, The Hired Man (2013). I’ve heard this described as a “taut and suspenseful” tale of the relationship between villagers of a small Croat town and outsiders, after Croatia’s War of Independence. The title has appeared on several recommended reading lists. I’m intrigued.
  • Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (May 2014). This novel set in World War II has been surfacing in every reading forum, with rave reviews. I’ve read short stories by Doerr before that were full of beauty and nuanced insight.
  • Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed (2013). This is the novel I just started reading. Hosseini’s prior novels – The Kite Runner (2004) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2008) — were stunning. Read this New York Times review. 
  • Erin Morgenstern, Night Circus (2011). This one made my reading radar before, but finally made it into the stack that came home with me from a recent book-buying trip. This novel had a lot of buzz among my lit friends on Twitter last summer ago. I actually finished reading it just prior to posting this and can tell you that Erin has created a magically unique world, justifying the buzz.
  • Joshua Ferris, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (2014). This was added to my reading list on sheer faith of this tweet from Anthony Marra, whose Constellation has gotten so much praise from me lately:

 

 

Carryovers from Winter

Middle Grade or Young Adult Fiction

You may know that, from my own interests, from reading along with my sons and from teaching middle grade lit, I am an avid reader of middle grade and young adult fiction. These make my summer list:

  • Gae Polisner, The Summer of Letting Go (March 2014). I’m excited to read this new release by a writer I came to know as one of the hosts of the annual TeachersWrite forum. Early reviews have been great! I’ve come to know her as frank, intelligent, and witty, and am interested to see how her voice plays out in the novel.
  • E. Lockhart, We Were Liars (May 2014). Here’s another new release showing up on nearly every recommended reading list. The cover alone has that summer-mystique from childhood to pull me in.
  • John Greene, An Abundance of Katherines (2008). One of my Best Reads of 2014 never made it onto one of my readings lists, and that is The Fault in Our Stars. Forget that it’s a movie this summer; you have to read the book. It will be a classic (and yes, you’ll cry through much of it). Credit to John Greene for being example of why adults read young adult fiction: Fault is one smart and passionate novel. So read that, if you haven’t. I, in the meantime, will be reading Katherines (recommended by a friend) or one of Greene’s others: Paper Towns or Looking for Alaska).
  • Carl Hiaasen’s Scat, and Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. I’ll be buddy reading these along with my son, a rising 5th grader — they are part of his summer reading. If you have a child 4th-6th grade, these are great reads.

Nonfiction

  • Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012). Boo’s reporting of the “bewildering age of global change and inequality” through the inner stories of families in Mumbai was winner of the National Book Award, the PEN/John Galbraith Award, Los Angeles Times Book Prize… should I go on?
  • Gary Shteyngart, Little Failure (January 2014). While it’s possible I’ll end up buying something else by Shteyngart (novels: Super Sad True Love Story or Russian Debutante’s Handbook) when I’m actually in the store, this memoir has been on my target list for some time.
  • Elizabeth Berg, Escaping Into the Open (2012). This book made my reading list, sight unseen, as it is the book being shared by my Wordsmith Studios friends as a summer reading group. Smile at the thought of this great group.
  • Colm Toibin, Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border (2001). I look forward to reading this account from one of my favorite Irish authors about the time and place where much of my current novel-in-progress is set. (More about my novel’s Irish connection here.)

 Want more reading recommendations?

*     *     *     *      *

What Are You Reading?

I’d love to hear your own reading suggestions in the comments.  Let us know the favorite books you’ve read this year or ones on your must-reads list.  If this inspires you to blog your own list, share link to your post so we can come read with you.

Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click book titles for their link on Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

More on Books and Reading:

Is Novel Revision your summer goal?

6 Comments

Filed under Books, Reading

Reading: Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

I’ve been very picky in reading this past spring — literally put down 7 out of 12 books, without finishing. But today I’m motivated to post the first book review I’ve shared on this site, because so bowled over by Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth, Jan. 2013).

And the Winner Is…

I first picked this novel up when it began appearing on lists nominating it for various national and international book awards last year. Constellation won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle’s inaugural John Leonard Prize, the inaugural 2014 Carla Furstenberg Cohen Fiction Award and the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in fiction.  It was also nominated for the National Book Award in Fiction, and appeared on numerous best-reads lists, including the Goodreads Choice list.

anthony marraI was particularly intrigued because I “knew” Anthony from when he participated in a writer’s forum back when he was applying for a Stanford Stegner fellowship, years back. Constellation is Marra’s first novel. I shared this interest here before, when I included link to an interview with Marra by the New School in Friday Links for Writers: 02.21.14.

From this, what I knew of the book in advance was that it was intelligent and stark, with some risks taken in multiple narrative threads.

Stunning and Beautiful

What I found was an intelligent, sometimes poetic, emotionally powerful insight into individual lives of civilians during the wars in Chechnya. The simplest compliment I could give the novel was the point, midway through, when I found myself comparing the narrative impact of the writing to Tolstoy.

Marra’s writing is beautiful, brave, clean and with an unhurried confidence that left a nuanced and authentic portrayal of characters who were altogether new. As the novel opens, a young Chechen girl, Havaa, is watching her house burn, knowing her father has been disappeared. She is quickly spirited away by Akhmed, a close friend of her father’s, who takes on a job (as the worst physician in Chechnya) in Hospital No. 6 in order to convince the head doctor to hide the girl. As three more key characters are introduced, Marra weaves together histories and desires that reveal the personal losses and motivations that populate the lives of civilians in wartime.

Fascinated by Marra’s Narrative Structure

There is an idiosynchratic spirit to Constellations.  I’d heard it described as multiple stories woven together, but what he accomplishes is much more organic and unified than that.

Divisions of the novel are based on time. There are 28 chapters to the novel, grouped into parts that measure the five days after Dokka is disappeared. At the top of each chapter is a timeline band, highlighting the relevant years for that chapter. While the storyline progresses through the events after Dokka is taken, each chapter moves organically through the minds of the main characters and how the past 20 years of memories led each of the characters to the events of these 5 days. The complexity of the structure is pulled off beautifully.

Some risks are taken in the ways that Marra plays with voice, as the narrative fluctuates in varying degrees of 3rd person. The most basic structure is that each chapter begins with close 3rd on one of 5 main characters; line spacing mid-chapter usually then signals a shift to close 3rd from another main character’s pov. Frequently, however — particularly in traumatic encounters with other players in the war, such as arrival in the ER of a man whose leg was blasted apart by a landmine — narrative voice shifts to omniscience for 1-3 lines, revealing inner secrets, thoughts or future outcomes of this side character before returning to the main character’s pov.  The effect of this intrigues me, as it breaks a linear plane to create a wavery effect that is less godly than a shared-awareness that seems fitting in an environment where all predictable rules have dissolved.  What is impressive is Marra’s control, as pov shifts are accomplished without apology or need for awkward segues.  By visiting Havaa’s pov in the opening line, then Akhmed’s within the next line, Marra has effectively signaled that views will shift.

Lasting Impact

The concept of the novel is powerful. I was continually impressed at Marra’s ability to deliver with nuanced subtlety how each individual progresses through the insane or horrifying events of war (or warlike conditions and even torture in supposed peacetime). He manages to present the factual history in a manner that is seamless with the characters’ individual voices and storylines.

What is most powerful are the characters. While it is a novel revealing truisms of war, it is ultimately a novel about love and compassion and the warmly developed lives of characters in this small village. Each character is vivid, intriguing and their stories compelling.

Congrats to Anthony Marra for making my Top Reads of 2014.

*     *     *     *     *

What Are You Reading?

I’m getting ready to post my Summer Reading List for 2014, which has me curious what everyone else is reading.  I’d love to hear your own reading suggestions in the comments.  Let us know the favorite books you’ve read this year or ones on your must-reads list.  If this inspires you to blog your own list, share link to your post so we can come read with you.

Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click the book link to Marra’s book in the opening paragraph, which takes you to Amazon.  Or, you can find it at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

More on Books and Reading:

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Reading

Reading Lists: Nobel in Literature, Man Booker Prize and National Book Award Finalists

Photo from Fairfield University, when author Colum McCann spoke about his 2009 National Book Award novel. (c Peter Caty/The Mirror)

Featuring one of my favorite National Book Award winners: Colum McCann speaks at Fairfield University in 2009 with his National Book Award novel, Let the Great World Spin. (c Peter Caty/The Mirror)

It’s award season! No, not the ones with red carpets and stars dressed by Rachel Zoe.

Today’s news announces finalists for the National Book Award, Thursday at one will be the official announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and news is still pending on the Man Booker Prize short list announced in September.

Below are links to the award lists, with highlights of books on the lists that had also previously made my Summer Reading List or Fall Reading Lists. One interesting aside regarding customer reviews, is how many of these books — recognized for their merit by such prestigious awards — earned only 3-star reviews.  Clearly reviews and awards are equally subjective and fallible.

As always, share your own reading recommendations or link to your reading list in the comments!

*   *   *   *   *

Man Booker Prizes

First awarded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is awarded yearly to recognize “the best novel in the opinion of the judges” with the goal of increasing the visibility of quality fiction. Novels published by citizens of the United Kingdom, and Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland are eligible. Notably, judging panels are comprised from a wide range of disciplines, “including critics, writers and academics, but also poets, politicians and actors, all with a passion for quality fiction.”   The longlist was announced July 25th, and the shortlist announced September 11th. Link to the Man Booker site. Follow @ManBooker on Twitter for updates.

Updated 10/16 – News is out:  Hilary Mantel is winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize for Bring Up the Bodies . (Link here to news on Man Booker site)

Short list:

Longlist included the above, plus:

Other news for the Man Booker Prize is that it will announce finalists for the 2013 award at the Jaipur Literary Festival in India, in January, with an increase to 5 judges (from 3) (link for article).

*   *   *   *   *

National Book Award

The National Book Award is second only to the Pulitzer, perhaps, in prestige for books published in the US. Finalists are listed below. They will read on November 13th, and presentation of the final awards will be November 14th.  Link to the National Book Foundation, which sponsors the award.

Finalists:

Fiction

From that list, Kevin Powers’ Yellow Birds topped my Fall Reading List, and the Eggers, Fountain and Diaz will likely make it to my Spring Reading List.

Nonfiction:

Of those, I was previously intrigued by buzz around Katherine Boo’s book and Anthony Shadid’s.

Poetry:

Young People’s Literature:

Of these, I am most interested in McCormick’s Never Fall Down and will likely add it to the books I read with my sons or students.

Lifetime Achievement Awards

The following lifetime achievement awards will be presented on November 14th:

  • Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters will be presented to Elmore Leonard “in recognition of his outstanding achievement in fiction” writing over 5 decades.
  • Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community  will honor Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., “chairman and publisher of The New York Times, for his continuing efforts through the New York Times Book Review and online book coverage to ensure an ongoing conversation about books in American culture.”

*   *   *   *   *

Nobel Prize for Literature

The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, Sweden, and has been awarded to 108 laureates from 1901 to 2011.  Interestingly, the average age of all these writers at the time they received the award is 64. Rudyard Kipling was the youngest at 42, and Doris Lessing the oldest at 88.  Mere spring chickens, we are.  Have hope, people.

On October 11th, the Swedish Academy awarded the 2012 Prize in Literature to Chinese novelist Mo Yan.

Link here for coverage by The Huffington Post

Link here for a little outrage reported by The Guardian.

Link to the Nobel’s site, with a listing of all laureates for the Prize in Literature.

*   *   *   *   *

Pulitzer Prize

It’s old news that the Pulitzer was not awarded for Fiction in 2012. Current news is that the deadline for entering books for consideration for the 2013 award was October 1, 2012, so all books up for consideration will now be in.  The site link for Pulitzer Prizes is here.

*     *     *     *     *

What are you reading now? Are you likely to read any of the books honored on these lists?  Share your recommendations or thoughts in the comments, below.

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option, or via email or RSS feed. I love to connect with like minded bloggers!

Coming next:

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Reading