The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

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2010 National Book Critics Circle Award Winners Announced

Last night, the winners of the National Book Critics Circle Award were announced in New York City. The award is voted on by critics and considers all books in English (including in translation), no matter the country of origin. The winners in the various categories and some supplementary links:

Fiction: Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (at The Millions, Egan’s Year in Reading, excerpt)

Nonfiction: Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (excerpt)

Autobiography: Darin Strauss, Half a Life (excerpt)

Criticism: Clare Cavanagh, Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West

Biography: Sarah Bakewell, How To Live: Or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (at The Millions, excerpt)

Poetry: C. D. Wright, One with Others

Previously: The finalists

2010 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists Announced

The finalists for the annual National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Award have been announced. The fiction list includes four books that have gotten quite a lot of attention over the last year – the Franzen, Egan, Grossman, and Murray – and one outlier, a novella originally written in 1947 by the 101-year-old Keilson, that was published in English for the first time last year. One might argue that with this set of finalists, the NBCC’s fiction contest is more high-profile this year than the NBA and Booker slates were. Here are the finalists for fiction and non-fiction with excerpts and other links where available. As a side note, the NBCC award is particularly interesting in that it is one of the few major awards that pits American books against overseas (usually British) books.

Fiction

Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (at The Millions, Egan’s Year in Reading, excerpt)
Jonathan Franzen, Freedom (at The Millions, excerpt)
David Grossman, To the End of the Land (review)
Hans Keilson, Comedy in a Minor Key (profile)
Paul Murray, Skippy Dies (review, Murray’s Year in Reading, excerpt)

Nonfiction

S.C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches (excerpt)
Jennifer Homans, Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet (excerpt)
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (excerpt)
Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (excerpt)
Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (excerpt)

For more on the NBCC Awards and the finalists in the other categories, visit PW.

A Year in Reading: Danielle Evans

I spent more of 2010 than I care to admit working through a spell of writer’s block, brought on not because I didn’t have a project, or even because I doubted that I could finish that project, but because I was briefly and thoroughly convinced that none of it mattered, that of all of the things a person could do with their time, writing a novel was the least likely to improve anyone’s quality of life. The disasters seemed so much bigger than words, and even those crises that were crises of culture rather than climate seemed impermeable. I would watch cable news and think that language had lost all meaning, that my faith in books as a vehicle for empathy and understanding had been naïve and misguided, because empathy was dead.

The two books that most stood out to me this year spoke broke through that haze by reminding me what language can still do. They spoke to the anxieties of the present without being nihilistic or unrealistic about the future.  They reminded me, during a year when I spent so much time battling my own distraction that I actually went back to writing longhand, how it felt to be so completely absorbed with a book that I didn’t notice my laptop or my cell phone, or, on one occasion, my metro stop, but also left me ultimately feeling more responsible for the world I live in, instead of more isolated from it.

The first was Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, a beautifully written and researched account of the great migration. The book expanded my understanding of a story I thought I knew and did a wonderful job of balancing the epic scope of the project with the intimate details of the lives of individuals. It’s hard to tell the story of pre civil-rights movement America without some degree of optimism, because it’s hard to read accounts of the way things were—from the brutal violence of both the U.S south that African-Americans fled and the U.S north that burned down neighborhoods rather than accept them as neighbors, to the quieter brutality of travelers being forced into lonely, unsafe drives because there was no where in the country for a black travel to safely rest—and not think about how much we take for granted now. But Wilkerson resists the reductive optimism of leaving it at that by exploring the ambiguous nature of some of the progress made, and by refusing to force her subjects into being symbols rather than human beings.  I think a lot about the ways in which the recent black experience in America has been in some ways similar to an immigration experience, and in making the case that for many families, it was an actual immigration experience, Wilkerson linked the past and the present and reminded me that the past was not so long ago and the future is never set in stone.

The second book was Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. Egan did a beautiful job of filtering large anxieties—about time, about technology, about pop-culture, about the limitations of human connection—and making them breathe on the page, through a cast of characters who felt fully alive. After spending so much time this year listening to people weigh in on technology—technology and the future, technology and the book, technology and empathy—it was exciting to see Egan play with that anxiety in the novel form, by letting the question of technology become a question of aesthetics. The aesthetic choices engaged the question without providing a neat or heavy-handed answer. By the time the book shifted to the imagined future, I was grieving less for the loss of the world as I knew it, and more for the private tragedies of Egan’s characters, which were somehow not lost in either the playfulness of the novel’s form or the shift in forms of communication in their new present.

Other favorite new reads for this year: Dwayne Betts’ Shahid Reads His Own Palm, Sandra Beasley’s I Was the Jukebox, Lauren Groff’s Delicate Edible Birds, Jennine Capo Crucet’s How to Leave Hialeah.

More from a Year in Reading 2010

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions

A Year in Reading: Marjorie Kehe

Because I must read for my work, there are always two book lists winding their way through my life. There are the books that I must read for my job –not that I am complaining, for the most part I love these titles, and anyway, who wouldn’t want to be paid to read? – but then there are also the books that I read for myself.

Very often the books that I read for myself are last year’s books – or older – that I never got around to reading at the time of their release but now cannot bear to leave behind. So I sneak them in on weekends and evenings and during long subway rides.

Among 2010 titles, there were so many winners on my list that it’s hard to pick favorites. But on the nonfiction side perhaps The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier, and The Chocolate Wars, by Deborah Cadbury did the best job of either surprising, teaching, and/or impressing me – all for completely different reasons.

Among fiction titles, I especially enjoyed the cleverness of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein, the enchantment of Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni, and the lovely precision of Tinkers by Paul Harding.

The books that I read for myself this year were mostly fiction. My only real criterion for picking them was that I thought I would like them. For the most part I was right, but there was one particularly good streak when I read three books in a row that turned out to be three of my absolute favorites. These were In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin, American Rust by Philipp Meyer, and The City and the City by China Mieville. Maybe someone will see a pattern here but I do not. It seems to me that each one appealed to a completely different side of my being for a reason uniquely its own.

Then there were two more titles that I must add. They were not part of that magic streak, but they belong on this list. One is the linked short story collection Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum which I think I will have to add my list of all-time favorites. Something about it – so simple yet so evocative – appealed to me enormously.

And then there was The Appointment by Herta Muller. I picked it up simply because she won the Nobel Prize and yet I knew so little about her. The edition that I found had her Nobel lecture appended to the end and I’m so glad that it did.  I think that Muller’s description of the handkerchief drawer in her childhood home, with her father’s, her mother’s, and her tiny child’s handkerchiefs all lined up in separate compartments in the same drawer – the drawer from which her mother pulled a handkerchief to bring with her the day she was taken away and interrogated – will stay with me forever.

More from a Year in Reading 2010

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions

Tuesday New Release Day

Another big, literary title hits shelves today. Tom McCarthy turned heads with Remainder in 2007. Now he’s back with C. Posthumously published is Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago’s The Elephant’s Journey. Also newly released is Sara Gruen’s tale of bonobos and reality television: Ape House, William Gibson’s latest Zero History, and The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass. Culture mavens will be intrigued by The Official Preppy Handbook reboot True Prep. And this week’s intriguing art book is Full Bleed: New York City Skateboard Photography. And in non-fiction, Bob Dylan In America by Sean Wilentz and Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, so compellingly written up in last week’s New Yorker.

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