Sunday, November 12, 2017

National Book Awards - My Prediction

Ok so I have already noted why this year's award show is problematic here. The National Book Foundation's deciding to invite a sexual predator, former President Bill Clinton, to present an award is horribly tone deaf, especially in the context of everything that has happened post-Weinstein. The Liberal establishment has so long defended Clinton that it can't see the problem, even as recent events have changed the lay of the land.

In terms of the literary awards themselves, the finalists for this year's prize are actually quite exciting, novel works, featuring a diverse group of writers, mostly women, mostly women of colour.

In terms of the Fiction prize, for which I have read the entire shortlist, Jesmyn Ward's SING, UNBURIED SING is the likely favourite. My review is here, and I did admire Ward's novel, although I think it fell short compared to her previous NBA winning book, her debut Salvage the Bones.

My top pick, however, is actually HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES and I wouldn't be surprised if it's author Carmen Maria Machado won. The NBA seems to like its short stories, and this collection is stunning. You can find my review here.

I really enjoyed THE LEAVERS. It was an emotionally powerful immigrant story that I felt drawn to (being married to a South East Asian woman probably made it more personally resonating).

PACHINKO was the book I had the highest expectations in before reading. In terms of scope and topic it felt the most ambitious. I love historical fiction and a book about the experience of Koreans living in Japan from the Depression era until the here and now felt like it was going to be amazing, dealing with issues of discrimination and persistence through very tumultuous times. That said I found Min Jin Lee's writing pretty pedestrian. There are no wow sentences and passages. Instead we just get a plot that plods along at a nice pace but never had me gasping for air amazed by the writing. The most impressive and compelling parts of the book are in the first two thirds and I felt it loses considerable steam toward the end. My review is here.

The worst of the bunch was DARK AT THE CROSSING. Again really interesting place and time (is about a Syrian returning home to fight Isis) but the writing was painfully dull and I wonder if the fact that Ackerman isn't Syrian robbed the story of its intimacy that a Syrian writer would have brought to the subject matter. I certainly don't think an American can't tell the story of the Other, and presumably Ackerman, as a journalist who has covered the area would be well placed to do so, but just found his writing didn't meet the challenge.

The awards are on Wednesday evening, will be hosted by Cynthia Nixon of Sex in the City fame, and can be streamed on their website. Feel free to hiss and boo Clinton's speech.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Non-Fiction November

So the Booktube world is letting me know that November is, apparently, a month we should make an
extra effort to read non-fiction books. Although I am mostly a fiction reader, I do intersperse my intake of engrossing fiction with the occasional work of non-fiction.

This year I have been lucky to have read several fantastic non-fiction titles, including Timothy B. Tyson's The Blood of Emmett Till, David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon, Roxane Gay's Hunger, and the remarkable account of the early years AIDS How to Survive a Plague.

But in the spirit of the month, I am going try to read a couple of books that have been patiently waiting on my Kobo for months now. I still have to finish Pachinko before the National Book Awards next week, but once I am done I'll hit these two:

In the spirit of the 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution, I am going to hit up China MiƩville's October: The Story of the Russian Revolution. MiƩville is obviously a renowned weird fiction/sci-fi/fantasy author who has plenty of accolades. Lesser known is his long history as a revolutionary socialist. His take on the Russian Revolution should be a winner, good enough to have made Publisher Weekly's Top Non-Fiction of 2017.

The next one will likely take more than a month to read though, coming in at 752 pages. Heather Ann Thompson's Pulitzer-winning tome about the Attica prison uprising in the 1970s, Blood in the Water, and the government cover up in its aftermath caught my attention when it came out last year and every time I have caught an interview with Thompson the more I have wanted to dig into the text. I've been waiting for the audiobook but it appears that the library isn't going to get it any time soon, so I'll hit it in text.

So what non-fiction book is waiting for you to read?