68 Years of Inspiring Action: The Winners of the 2017 National Book Awards

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to start a new book. After all, if you’re going to be laid up on the couch, recovering from a massive food coma, you might was well be nourishing your brain at the same time.

Plus, now that we have the names of the winners for this year’s National Book Awards, you have even more reason to curl up with an amazing read. Be sure to check out the books below and enjoy the best of the best this holiday season!

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Fiction: Sing, Unburied, Sing

This year’s winner for adult fiction is Sing, Unburied, Sing, written by Jesmyn Ward. The novel explores some of the darker secrets of the South, including “the complicated legacy of slavery and mass incarceration.” Most of all, though, it’s a novel about family and the past that haunts us.

In an interview with the National Book Foundation, Ward says, “I fell in love with classic 'odyssey' novels early on—especially As I Lay Dying, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Yet I always felt somehow outside these books. This novel responds to that tradition, reflecting the realities of being black and poor in the South, the realities of my people and my community.”

Full of emotion and struggle, Ward takes on the harshest realities of life. Tracy K. Smith, writer for The New York Times, says, “Such feats of empathy are difficult, all too often impossible to muster in real life. But they feel genuinely inevitable when offered by a writer of such lyric imagination as Ward.”

If you’re looking for a book that will make you question today’s social climate and inspire you to see life from a different perspective, be sure to check out Sing, Unburied, Sing.

Nonfiction: The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia

In The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, by Masha Gessen, Gessen uses her journalistic talents to write about the lives of seven Russian individuals, including four young people who were born at what was expected to be the “dawn of democracy.” Each is grappling with the Russia they see before them, coming to terms with the past and wondering what the future holds.

Readers who are fascinated by Russian history and society will find Gessen’s novel intriguing, as she details the events that have taken place in Russia since the 1980s. Some of her findings are terrifying, such as the number of Russians who feel homosexual individuals should be “liquidated” (a number that decreased in the 1990s, but has grown since Putin came to power). The New York Times writes, “In [Putin’s] struggle with the West, as Gessen shows, the regime has whipped up hysteria over homosexual pedophilia, and presents itself as a defender of the traditional family and Christian values against an international LGBT conspiracy. This is one reason conservative groups in the United States and Western Europe have been steadily warming to Russia.”

Um, are you scared? Cause we sure are …

If you’re interested in real-world Russian events and struggles, be sure to check out The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, 2017’s Nonfiction winner.

Poetry: Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016

This year’s poetry winner is Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart. The publisher’s synopsis reads, “His pages represent the human voice in all its extreme registers, whether it’s that of the child murderer Herbert White, the obsessive anorexic Ellen West, the tormented genius Vaslav Nijinsky, or the poet’s own. And in that embodiment is a transgressive empathy, one that recognizes our wild appetites, the monsters, the misfits, the misunderstood among us, and inside of us.”

Bidart’s poems are a cynical study of destiny. With an eye toward today’s social and political climate, Bidart uses mythological or historical figures to comment on topics ranging from unrequited love to guilt to art. Half-Light is a book not just for poetry lovers, but for readers who enjoy a good philosophical challenge and who crave the chance to see the world through another lens.

Young People’s Literature: Far from the Tree

Fans of Robin Benway’s YA novel Emmy & Oliver will be thrilled with Beneway’s latest project and winner of this year’s National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, Far from the Tree.

Part of what makes this book so special is that it’s about siblings. For whatever reason, the majority of YA novels seem to be led by an only child or eldest child protagonist, powering through the world alone (think this season’s YA darling, John Green’s Turtles All the Way Up).

In this regard, Benway offers a fresh perspective, using the unique points of view of her three main characters—biological siblings Maya, Grace, and Joaquin—to weave a story of family, forgiveness, and belonging.

Separated from birth and previously unknown to each other, Maya, Grace, and Joaquin have the chance to form a bond they’ve never had. Raised in completely different circumstances (Maya and Grace with their adoptive families, Joaquin in various foster homes), each has their own burdens to carry—and their own hopes for the future.

Like any truly good book, Far from the Tree will make you laugh and cry, and it’ll stick with you long after you’ve reached the end.

If you haven’t yet watched the 2017 National Book Awards Ceremony, you absolutely should. As Cynthia Nixon, host of this year’s event, says,

“For some of us, books provide a welcome escape into someone else’s world. For others, they serve as a valuable resource for arming ourselves with indispensable knowledge of history. But all books offer something we need so desperately right now: broadened perspective.

“Books allow us to view circumstances through the eyes of someone else. They cultivate empathy. They inspire action. … Books matter.”

Here at HigleyFox, we too believe in the power of books to inspire action and empathy. If you haven’t yet had the chance to check out our services, we invite you to do just that on our How it Works page.