Books to Get You Thinking

Established as a nonprofit organization in 1950, the National Book Foundation selects outstanding books published in the United States each year in the genres of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature. The books are nominated as winners and finalists by a panel of judges who are all prominent writers in each of the genre categories. Over the years the National Book Awards have been associated with several well known authors in America’s literary landscape including Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and William Faulkner.  The latest round of the National Book Awards for books published in 2012 includes books of widely different content – here are some selections of fiction and nonfiction that are truly outstanding literary contributions:


Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo                        
Pulitzer Prize Winning Reporter from the New Yorker, Katherine Boo, has penned this haunting book about life in Annawadi, a slum on the road to the airport  in Mumbai, India. The pages transport readers to a world that is largely invisible to those outside it, a world where abject poverty crushes so many hopes and dreams. Central to the book is Abdul, a nineteen year old who earns money by scavenging through trash. Following scores of interviews and research, Katherine Boo paints a picture that is poignant and heart wrenching.  She describes the social milieu and the criminal justice system, all stacked against a class of people with no promise for tomorrow.  The book won the 2012 National Book Award as well as the National Book Critics Award for outstanding nonfiction.

The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 4 by Robert Caro                                                      
A finalist for the National Book Award, Robert Caro’s brilliant political biography is the fourth part of his epic work on Lyndon Johnson. The Passage of Power meticulously covers the critical years 1958 through 1964 which included a time of intense political upheavals – President Kennedy’s assassination and increasing US involvement in the Vietnam War.   The book provides a vivid picture of Johnson’s multifaceted personality and his ingenious skills of political maneuvering as reflected in how he battled with obstacles to achieve the landmarks of his Presidency - the passing of the Civil Rights Bill, the Voting Rights Act,  and the  legislation on open housing, Medicare and Medicaid. Through Caro’s well researched and detailed narrative, readers share in the many significant moments in Johnson's political career both in his moments of triumph as well as of humiliation and despair.


The Round House by Louise Erdrich                                                                                                                            
Set in the fictional North Dakota Indian reservation of Yoknapatawpha and its surrounding towns in 1988, this is a captivating thriller which also provides deep insight into Native American life and the intricacies of the prevailing criminal justice system.  At a deeper level, Erdrich investigates the nature of human brutality through a cast of enduring characters such as Joe, who sets out to investigate the brutal rape of his mother and track down her perpetrator; and his grandfather, from whom Joe learns about the story of the Round House. Though the Round House symbolized a place where people could seek “mercy from the Creator,”  it  proved just as vulnerable as the overall system of justice that left  so many predators  unpunished and free .  The book won the 2012 National Book Award in the category of fiction.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers                                                                                                                                  
A compelling, heart searing account of the Iraq War written by Kevin Powers who enlisted in the army at age seventeen and was deployed to go to Iraq. The book is written in the first person in the voice of twenty-one-year-old Private John Bartle, whose platoon is engaged in a fiery battle in the town of Al Tafar in Northern Iraq. Before deployment, he makes a promise to eighteen-year-old Private Daniel Murphy’s mother to bring him safely back home, a promise he would be unable to keep as he brings to vivid life the deep horrors and the sheer brutality of the War. Eventually, when he does return home, all he can hear is the deafening roar of the bullets zipping through the air and  see all around him  the many faces of the men who perished in the War.

                                                                                                                                          -Nita Mathur                          


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