Books to Get You Thinking

The National Book Awards have become an icon for honoring and celebrating outstanding American literature and authors. Each year, exceptional literary works in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and Young People’s Literature are nominated for this award. Finalists are selected from a long list of titles nominated from each of the genres by a distinguished panel of judges drawn from leading authors and literary luminaries. Finally in November, after months of anticipation, the winners are declared in the National Book Awards Ceremony. This month we feature winning titles and select finalists in the categories of fiction and nonfiction. All titles can be found at the Mercer County Library System!


Redeployment by Phil Klay
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Winner of the 2014 National Book Award in the category of fiction is this collection of short stories by Phil Klay, an ex-Marine who served in Iraq. The stories bring to the fore the true human cost of war and the toll it takes on the lives of those involved. For the soldiers returning home from combat, the war does not end. Embedded in their minds and souls is the violence, brutality, anguish, fear, and sense of futility from the battle zones that irrevocably alters the way they would view the world around them for all time to come. The stark horror and devastation of the War they carry back makes the routine of everyday life at home appear empty and inconsequential. Klay portrays the complex emotions and psychological scars of the War at home and in Iraq using the voice of twelve different narrators featured in the twelve short stories. Through the intense and riveting images and stories of combat and of homecoming, the author transports readers to the shattered world of the soldiers, their families and communities both at home and abroad.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
A finalist for the Book Awards, this captivating dystopian novel by Canadian author Emily Mandel revolves around a flu pandemic that wipes out entire communities and countries. Vestiges of life disappear, the world comes to a standstill and darkness descends on the earth with no electricity, internet or communications. All that is left are a few survivors who band together in isolated settlements. The author moves twenty years forward in time to a surviving group of musicians and actors who have got together under the name of Travelling Symphony. Among them is Kirsten, who is introduced to readers at the time of the pandemic as an eight year old child actor watching the famous actor Arthur Leander render his last performance of King Lear. As they travel and perform at different settlements in the Great Lakes region, their path cross those of an evil self-proclaimed prophet .The author skillfully weaves together the past with the present, evoking through her rich imagery, powerful emotions of loss, the enduring affirmation of beauty and the power of art to touch and keep alive the best that exists in humankind.

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos
As a correspondent, reporting from Beijing for eight years, Evan Osnos had the opportunity to live and meet people from different walks of life and, through interacting with them, experience the many facets of life in China. In this engaging book that won the 2014 National Book Award in the nonfiction category, Osnos skillfully profiles a cross section of people and paints a picture of contemporary China that has evolved and transformed into a world super power and yet remains a nation riddled with contradictions and complexities. Accounts of familiar public figures such as the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, and the blind human-rights activist Chen Guangcheng, can be found along with the voices of ordinary citizens like Michael Zhang, the son of a coal miner who tried to make a fortune through offering a method for learning English and Qi Xiangfu, who swept the streets by day but spent his evenings writing poetry on his website. The many different voices echo widely differing aspirations and bring to the surface the complex tapestry of the evolving Chinese society with its vast income inequalities. Yet through all the differences, economic growth has brought to the people a unifying overriding ambition to succeed and change their lives in the face of all obstacles.

The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward Wilson

The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward Wilson
The book, a finalist in the category of nonfiction, is an exploration of some fundamental questions mankind has striven to comprehend since the dawn of civilization: Where do we come from ...are we alone in this universe…what is the meaning of our existence? Edward Wilson, a distinguished scientist, emeritus professor at Harvard University and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize presents a cohesive and fascinating point of view which highlights the complexities inherent in the study of human evolution and existence. Building on scientific discoveries in the realm of evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and sociobiology to describe the journey of the human species that started millions of years ago, Wilson suggests that what makes the human species truly remarkable is our inherent propensity to communicate, compete, consolidate, bond and develop a deep sense of belonging to our own special group. Our journey to become the dominant species on the planet has also empowered us with the tools to shape our future. Wilson provides an inspiring discourse on the extraordinary opportunity mankind has today to address the greatest goal of all times - to seek the unity of the human race.

Nita Mathur

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