National Book Award Finalists Announced Today

by Margaret Heilbrun and Molly McArdle

The National Book Award finalists are out! Announced this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, which rumor indicates is a cable news morning show, the short list named five titles each in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people’s literature. We were pleased with the overlap: we’ve got enough stars here to decorate a child’s bedroom ceiling. (Call us, Lorrie Moore, if you ever want to hang out and talk about books.) Here we’ve compiled a list of all of the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry finalists, with excerpts from Library Journal‘s reviews and other coverage.


Díaz, Junot. This Is How You Lose Her. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Sept. 2012. c.224p. ISBN 9781594487361. $26.95. F

Díaz tells of love won and lost with his signature verve; the book pulses with Spanish, sf, and the music and apocalyptic TV shows of the late 1980s. Through the lens of the women that Yunior, his older brother Rafa (who dies of cancer while Yunior is in high school), and their mostly absent father love, leave, and are left by, Díaz maps out a painful, aching geography of desire.—LJ, July 2012

Eggers, Dave. A Hologram for the King. McSweeney’s. Jun. 2012. 328p. ISBN 9781936365746. $25. F

Erdrich, Louise. The Round House. Harper: HarperCollins. Oct. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780062065247. $25.99. F

Set on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota in 1988, Erdrich’s 14th novel focuses on 13-year-old Joseph. After his mother is brutally raped yet refuses to speak about the experience, Joe must not only cope with her slow physical and mental recovery but also confront his own feelings of anger and helplessness.—LJ, August 2012

Fountain, Ben. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Ecco: HarperCollins. May 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780060885595. $25.99. F

Billy Lynn is a member of Bravo Company, which acquitted itself heroically in a deadly confrontation early in the Iraq War.…Employing intricate detail and feverish cinematography, Fountain’s (Brief Encounters with Che Guevara: Stories) vividly written novel is an allegorical hero’s journey, a descent into madness, and a mirror held up to this society’s high-definition TV reality.—LJ, May 15, 2012

Powers, Kevin. The Yellow Birds: A Novel. Little, Brown. Sept. 2012. c.224p. ISBN 9780316219365. $24.99. F

This first novel by Powers traces the story of a young soldier named John Bartle and his friend Murph during fighting in northern Iraq in 2005….As the horrors of war escalate, all the soldiers seem to lose their grip, and Murph finally snaps, leaving the compound and forcing Bartle and Sterling to search for him through the nightmarish landscape of a ravaged city.—LJ, June 1, 2012


Applebaum, Anne. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956. Doubleday. Nov. 2012. c.560p. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9780385515696. $35. HIST

Slate and Washington Post columnist Applebaum won a Pulitzer for Gulag, so you can bet that a lot of folks will be anticipating her next book. Here she explains how the Soviet Union, suddenly in control of the countries of Eastern Europe after World War II, turned them into communist regimes.—Prepub Alert, May 1, 2012

(Look for a review in this Friday’s Xpress Reviews. It calls this “important and essential study of a neglected aspect of the Cold War era…a powerful and sobering book. By far the best treatment yet to appear on the topic.”)

Boo, Katherine. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Random. Feb. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9781400067558. $28. SOC SCI

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Boo’s (The New Yorker)…takes a look at the stark lives of the inhabitants of Annawadi, a slum across from Mumbai’s Sahar Airport, to reveal the wrenching inequality and urban poverty still endemic in India’s democracy…. A tour de force.—LJ, February 15, 2012

Caro, Robert A. The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Knopf. May 2012. c.736p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780679405079. $35. BIOG

Caro has once more combined prodigious research and a literary gift to mount a stage for his Shakespearean figures: LBJ, JFK, and LBJ’s nemesis Robert F. Kennedy. Readers’ only disappointment will be the necessary wait for Caro’s next volume.—LJ, May 1, 2012

Martinez, Domingo. The Boy Kings of Texas. Lyons: Globe Pequot. Jul. 2012. 443p. ISBN 9780762779192. $16.95. MEMOIR

Shadid, Anthony. House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780547134666. $26. AUTOBIOG

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Shadid, also author of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner Night Draws Near, was among four New York Times reporters captured in Libya last spring and held for six days by forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi. After being released, Shadid returned to an estate built by his great-grandfather in Lebanon that he had been working for two years to restore.—Prepub Alert, October 15, 2011


Ferry, David. Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations. Univ. of Chicago. Sept. 2012. 115p. ISBN 9780226244884. $18. POETRY

Huntington, Cynthia. Heavenly Bodies. Southern Illinois Univ. Jan. 2012. 88p. ISBN 9780809330638. $15.95. POETRY

Seibles, Tim. Fast Animal. Etruscan Press. Feb. 2012. 72p. ISBN 9780983294429. $14. POETRY

Shapiro, Alan. Night of the Republic. Houghton Harcourt. Jan. 2012. c.80p. ISBN 9780547329703. $21. POETRY

Shapiro creates a fresh Republic of poetry where generic things are represented without ceremony yet somehow anew. The funeral home, for instance, is uncovered for what it really is: “an inn/ made to look like a home/ made to look like a mansion/ where no one lives.”—LJ, January 1, 2012

Wheeler, Susan. Meme. Univ. of Iowa. Oct. 2012. 87p. ISBN 9781609381271. $18. POETRY



  1. Jennifer Strunk says:

    : ( I read the article looking for the young peoples’ award finalists…top of the article mentioned them, but I don’t see them in anywhere.