Great Reads: National Book Awards 2022 Finalists

Looking for your next great read? If so, check out the finalists for this year’s National Book Awards, which were announced in October.

Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are American literary prizes administered by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization.  Recognizing literary excellence, the Awards currently honor the best Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature, published each year.

The winners for 2022 will be announced on November 16. 

Here are some of the honored books in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, translated literature and young people’s literature, available to borrow with your Livingston library card.

Fiction

All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews

Graduating into the long maw of an American recession, Sneha is one of the fortunate ones. She’s moved to Milwaukee for an entry-level corporate job that, grueling as it may be, is the key that unlocks every door: she can pick up the tab at dinner with her new friend Tig, get her college buddy Thom hired alongside her, and send money to her parents back in India. She begins dating women—soon developing a burning crush on Marina, a beguiling and beautiful dancer who always seems just out of reach.

But before long, trouble arrives. Painful secrets rear their heads; jobs go off the rails; evictions loom. Sneha struggles to be truly close and open with anybody, even as her friendships deepen, even as she throws herself headlong into a dizzying romance with Marina. It’s then that Tig begins to draw up a radical solution to their problems, hoping to save them all.

The Birdcatcher by Gayl Jones

Set primarily on the island of Ibiza, the story is narrated by the writer Amanda Wordlaw, whose closest friend, a gifted sculptor named Catherine Shuger, is repeatedly institutionalized for trying to kill a husband who never leaves her. The three form a quirky triangle on the white-washed island.

The Haunting Of Hajji Hotak : And Other Stories by Jamil Jan Kochai

A luminous meditation on sons and fathers, ghosts of war, and living history that moves between modern-day Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora. In playing “Metal Gear Solid V,” a young man’s video game experience turns into a surreal exploration on his own father’s memories of war and occupation. A college student in “Hungry Ricky Daddy” starves himself in protest of Israeli violence against Palestine. Set in Kabul, “Return to Sender” follows a doctor couple who must deal with the harsh realities of their decision to stay as the violence grows and their son disappears. And in the title story, “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak,” we learn the story of a man codenamed Hajji, from the perspective of a government surveillance worker, who becomes entrenched in the immigrant family’s life.

The Rabbit Hutch : A Novel by Tess Gunty

An online obituary writer. A young mother with a dark secret. A woman waging a solo campaign against rodents — neighbors, separated only by the thin walls of a low-cost housing complex in the once bustling industrial center of Vacca Vale, Indiana.  Set over one sweltering week in July and culminating in a bizarre act of violence that finally changes everything, this is a savagely beautiful and bitingly funny snapshot of contemporary America, a gorgeous and provocative tale of loneliness and longing, entrapment and, ultimately, freedom.

The Town Of Babylon : A Novel by Alejandro Varela

In this contemporary debut novel—an intimate portrait of queer, racial, and class identity —Andrés, a gay Latinx professor, returns to his suburban hometown in the wake of his husband’s infidelity. There he finds himself with no excuse not to attend his twenty-year high school reunion, and hesitantly begins to reconnect with people he used to call friends. Over the next few weeks, while caring for his aging parents and navigating the neighborhood where he grew up, Andrés falls into old habits with friends he thought he’d left behind. Before long, he unexpectedly becomes entangled with his first love and is forced to tend to past wounds.

Nonfiction

Breathless : The Scientific Race To Defeat A Deadly Virus by Daniel Quammen

The story of the worldwide scientific quest to decipher the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, trace its source, and make possible the vaccines to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.  Quammen expertly shows how strange new viruses emerge from animals into humans as we disrupt wild ecosystems, and how those viruses adapt to their human hosts, sometimes causing global catastrophe. He explains why this coronavirus will probably be a “forever virus,” destined to circulate among humans and bedevil us endlessly, in one variant form or another. As scientists labor to catch it, comprehend it, and control it, with their high-tech tools and methods, the virus finds ways of escape.

His Name Is George Floyd : One Man’s Life And The Struggle For Racial Justice by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa

The events of that day are now tragically familiar: on May 25, 2020, George Floyd became the latest Black person to die at the hands of the police, murdered outside of a Minneapolis convenience store by white officer Derek Chauvin. Placing his narrative within the context of the country’s enduring legacy of institutional racism, this deeply reported account examines Floyd’s family roots in slavery and sharecropping, the segregation of his schools, the overpolicing of his community amid a wave of mass incarceration, and the callous disregard toward his struggle with addiction—putting today’s inequality into uniquely human terms. Drawing upon hundreds of interviews with Floyd’s closest friends and family, his elementary school teachers and varsity coaches, civil rights icons, and those in the highest seats of political power, Washington Post reporters Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa offer a poignant and moving exploration of George Floyd’s America, revealing how a man who simply wanted to breathe ended up touching the world.

The Invisible Kingdom : Reimagining Chronic Illness by Meghan O’Rourke

A silent epidemic of chronic illnesses afflicts tens of millions of Americans: these are diseases that are poorly understood, frequently marginalized, and can go undiagnosed and unrecognized altogether. Renowned writer O’Rourke delivers a revelatory investigation into this elusive category of “invisible” illness that encompasses autoimmune diseases, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, and now long COVID, synthesizing the personal and the universal to help all of us through this new frontier.

The Man Who Could Move Clouds : A Memoir by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

In 2012, spurred by a shared dream among Mami and her sisters, and her own powerful urge to relearn her family history in the aftermath of her memory loss, Rojas Contreras joins her mother on a journey to Colombia to disinter Nono’s remains. With Mami as her unpredictable, stubborn, and often amusing guide, Rojas Contreras traces her lineage back to her Indigenous and Spanish roots, uncovering the violent and rigid colonial narrative that would eventually break her mestizo family into two camps: those who believe “the secrets” are a gift, and those who are convinced they are a curse.

South To America : A Journey Below The Mason-Dixon To Understand The Soul Of A Nation by Imani Perry

Weaving together stories of immigrant communities, contemporary artists, exploitative opportunists, enslaved peoples, unsung heroes, her own ancestors, and her lived experiences, Perry crafts a tapestry unlike any other.  She shows that the meaning of American is inextricably linked with the South, and that our understanding of its history and culture is the key to understanding the nation as a whole.

Translated Literature

Jawbone by Mónica Ojeda ; translated by Sarah Booker

Fernanda and Annelise are so close they are practically sisters: a double image, inseparable. So how does Fernanda end up bound on the floor of a deserted cabin, held hostage by one of her teachers and estranged from Annelise? Interweaving pop culture references and horror concepts drawn from Herman Melville, H. P. Lovecraft, and anonymous “creepypastas,” Jawbone is an ominous, multivocal novel that explores the terror inherent in the pure potentiality of adolescence and the fine line between desire and fear.

Kibogo by Scholastique Mukasonga ; translated from the French by mark Polizzotti

Mukasonga’s recounts, in four beautifully woven parts, the clash between ancient Rwandan beliefs and the missionaries’ determination to replace them with European Christianity. When a rogue priest is defrocked for fusing the gospels with the martyrdom of Kibogo, a fierce clash of cults ensues. Swirling with the heady smell of wet earth and flashes of acerbic humor, Mukasonga brings to life the vital mythologies that imbue the Rwandan spirit. In doing so, she gives us a tale of disarming simplicity and profound universal truth.

A New Name : Septology VI-VII by Jon Fosse ; translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls

Asle is an aging painter and widower who lives alone on the west coast of Norway. His only friends are his neighbor, Åsleik, a traditional fisherman-farmer, and Beyer, a gallerist who lives in the city. There, in Bjørgvin, lives another Asle, also a painter but lonely and consumed by alcohol. Asle and Asle are doppelgängers–two versions of the same person, two versions of the same life. In this final installment of Jon Fosse’s Septology, “a major work of Scandinavian fiction” , we follow the lives of the two Asles as younger adults in flashbacks: the narrator meets his lifelong love, Ales; joins the Catholic Church; and makes a living by trying to paint away all the pictures stuck in his mind.

Scattered All Over The Earth by Yoko Tawada ; translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani

Welcome to the not-too-distant future: Japan, having vanished from the face of the earth, is now remembered as “the land of sushi.” Hiruko, a former citizen and a climate refugee, has a job teaching immigrant children in Denmark with her invented language Panska (Pan-Scandinavian): “homemade language. no country to stay in. three countries I experienced. insufficient space in brain. so made new language. homemade language.” As she searches for anyone who can still speak her mother tongue, Hiruko soon makes new friends. Her troupe travels to France and Stockholm, and in a series of mesmerizing scenes encounters an umami cooking competition, a dead whale, an ultranationalist, Kakuzo robots, and much more—each scene more vivid than the last.

Seven Empty Houses by  Samanta Schweblin ; translated by Megan McDowell

The seven houses in these seven stories are empty. Some are devoid of love or life or furniture, of people or the truth or of memories. But in these tense, visionary tales, something always creeps back in: a ghost, a fight, trespassers, a list of things to do before you die, a child’s first encounter with a dark choice or the fallibility of parents.

In each story, the twists and turns will unnerve and surprise: Schweblin never takes the expected path and instead digs under the skin and reveals uncomfortable truths about our sense of home, of belonging, and of the fragility of our connections with others.

Young People’s Literature

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

A family extending from Pakistan to California, deals with generations of young love, old regrets, and forgiveness.

The Lesbiana’s Guide To Catholic School by Sonora Reyes

Sixteen-year-old Mexican American Yami Flores starts Catholic school, determined to keep her brother out of trouble and keep herself closeted, but her priorities shift when Yami discovers that her openly gay classmate Bo is also annoyingly cute. Told in a captivating voice that is by turns hilarious, vulnerable, and searingly honest, this is a title that explores the joys and heartaches of living your full truth out loud.

Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee

Eleven-year-old Maizy Chen visits her estranged grandparents, who own and run a Chinese restaurant in Last Chance, Minnesota; as her visit lengthens, she makes unexpected discoveries about her family’s history and herself.

The Ogress And The Orphans by Kelly Barnhill

When a child goes missing from the Orphan House in the town of Stone-in-the-Glen, the mayor suggests the kindly Ogress is responsible, but the orphans do not believe that and try to make their deluded neighbors see the real villain among them.

Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith Derrick Barnes

On October 16, 1968, during the medal ceremony at the Mexico City Olympics, Tommie Smith, the gold medal winner in the 200-meter sprint, and John Carlos, the bronze medal winner, stood on the podium in black socks and raised their black-gloved fists to protest racial injustice inflicted upon African Americans. Both men were forced to leave the Olympics, received death threats, and faced ostracism and continuing economic hardships. In his first-ever memoir for young readers, Smith looks back on his childhood growing up in rural Texas through to his stellar athletic career, culminating in his historic victory and Olympic podium protest.

Archana Chiplunkar, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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