Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Every year the National Book Foundation announces 10 nominees each for best fiction and non-fiction. The Foundation, founded in 1950, proclaims its mission “to celebrate the best in American literature, to expand its audience and to enhance the cultural value of great writing.” The National Book Awards promotes enthusiastic reading, just like the Monrovia Public Library reaches out to enthusiastic readers. Last week the National Book Award Fiction 2015 candidates were disclosed and you can find them at the Library.

One of the big books of this year is Did You Ever Have a Family? This debut novel by literary agent Bill Clegg was inspired by the story of fire that broke out in a house under construction and killed a woman’s parents and 3 daughters. In the book, it is the night before a wedding and a stove malfunctions and kills a woman’s family. What makes the novel so unusual is not the story of the woman’s grief, but how the various characters the woman knows, some of them just acquaintances, tell the stories of their own grief. Tragedy and the aftermath stay front and center in this haunting book.

From tragedy to comedy with Mislaid by Nell Zink. In 1966 college student Peggy’s affair with her professor results in an unhappy marriage with two children. When Peggy escapes family life with her daughter and leaves her son, she hides out in an African American community and pretends she and her daughter are  Black, even though they're Caucasians. Years later the daughter wins a minority college scholarship and meets the brother she didn't know she had. This hilarious satire addresses race and gender head on and leaves readers laughing and shaking their heads.

A Little Life by Hanna Yanagihara begins in college and follows 4 best friends as they age and become middle-aged adults. Each decade of their lives is highlighted and their histories and sadness are mined for emotions and memories. The friends are supportive, but their backgrounds are tragic. This novel is for readers who want a deeply involving book that might require a bit of a breather between chapters.

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