For my money, Domingo Martinez was the coolest person in the house. And that’s saying something because the house — a cavernous marble ballroom on Wall Street, site of Wednesday evening’s National Book Awards ceremony — was full of very cool people, including Elmore Leonard, Martin Amis, Terry Gross, Stephen King, Walter Mosley, and Dave Eggers.
Our own Bill Morris went stargazing at the National Book Awards.
Of the novels selected as National Book Award finalists in the Young People’s Literature category, Patricia McCormick’s Never Fall Down is the title that my high school students would reach for. McCormick’s latest novel is based on the life of Arn Chorn-Pond, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide. It is a story of a young boy who grows into a teenager on the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge, a young boy who endures unspeakable trauma, and survives. My students are drawn to books that feature violence and drama and tragedy, in part because they crave perspective: a way to understand the small and large tragedies of their lives, to appreciate the bounty of resources and freedoms available to them, and to feel grateful rather than burdened.
I would love it if everyone who read one of my reviews went out and obediently read every book, no matter how challenging, that I recommended — even if they’d been disappointed and put off by books I’d recommended in the past. Unfortunately, real readers are no longer so docile (if they ever were). When they feel you’ve steered them wrong in the past, they learn to disregard your suggestions. That seems to me to be the situation the NBAs are in.
Salon’s Laura Miller weighs in on Sonya Chung’s critique of the National Book Awards.