Master List of Finalists for National Book Awards

The National Book Awards are almost like the Emmys or Oscars for the book lovers out there. Yes, we will bet on who we think will win for the categories (Fiction, Non-fiction, Young People,  and Poetry). Yes, we make huge announcements who wins what and whether it was well deserved. While it might not be a Twitter trending topic nation wide, it’s important in the literary world. And this past Wednesday, October 16th, the finalists were announced. Now  we’ll scramble to read all the books and try to figure out who will win.

Each book and full review can be found on Amazon.


flamethrower1.  Rachel Kushner for The Flamethrowers (Scribner)

The Flamethrowers is an intensely engaging exploration of the mystique of the feminine, the fake, the terrorist. At its center is Kushner’s brilliantly realized protagonist, a young woman on the verge. Thrilling and fearless, this is a major American novel from a writer of spectacular talent and imagination.”


2. Jhumpa Lahiri for The Lowland (Knopf)

“Masterly suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland is a work of great beauty and complex emotion; an engrossing family saga and a story steeped in history that spans generations and geographies with seamless authenticity. It is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers.”


3. James McBride for The Good Lord Bird (Riverhead)

“An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.”


4. Thomas Pynchon for Bleeding Edge (Penguin Press)

“If not here at the end of history, when? If not Pynchon, who? Reading Bleeding Edge, tearing up at the beauty of its sadness or the punches of its hilarity, you may realize it as the 9/11 novel you never knew you needed… a necessary novel and one that literary history has been waiting for.”


5. George Saunders for Tenth of December (Random House)

“Unsettling, insightful, and hilarious, the stories in Tenth of December—through their manic energy, their focus on what is redeemable in human beings, and their generosity of spirit—not only entertain and delight; they fulfill Chekhov’s dictum that art should ‘prepare us for tenderness.'”



1. Jill Lepore for Book of Ages (Knopf)

“To stare at these siblings is to stare at sun and moon. But in Jill Lepore’s meticulously constructed biography, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, recently placed on the long list of nominees for the National Book Award in nonfiction, this moon casts a beguiling glow….Consistently first rate.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times


2. Wendy Lower for Hitler’s Furies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

“Hitler’s Furies builds a fascinating and convincing picture of a morally “lost generation” of young women, born into a defeated, tumultuous post–World War I Germany, and then swept up in the nationalistic fervor of the Nazi movement—a twisted political awakening that turned to genocide…..Hitler’s Furies will challenge our deepest beliefs: genocide is women’s business too, and the evidence can be hidden for seventy years.”


3. George Packer for The Unwinding (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

The Unwinding portrays a superpower in danger of coming apart at the seams, its elites no longer elite, its institutions no longer working, its ordinary people left to improvise their own schemes for success and salvation. Packer’s novelistic and kaleidoscopic history of the new America is his most ambitious work to date.”


4. Alan Taylor for The Internal Enemy (Norton)

“This searing story of slavery and freedom in the Chesapeake by a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian reveals the pivot in the nation’s path between the founding and civil war.”


5. Lawrence Wright for Going Clear (Knopf)

“In Going Clear, Wright examines what fundamentally makes a religion a religion, and whether Scientology is, in fact, deserving of this constitutional protection. Employing all his exceptional journalistic skills of observation, understanding, and shaping a story into a compelling narrative, Lawrence Wright has given us an evenhanded yet keenly incisive book that reveals the very essence of what makes Scientology the institution it is.”

Young People’s Literature:


1. Kathi Appelt for The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp (Atheneum)

“Newbery Honoree and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt presents a story of care and conservation, funny as all get out and ripe for reading aloud.”


2. Cynthia Kadohata for The Thing About Luck (Atheneum)

“There is bad luck, good luck, and making your own luck—which is exactly what Summer must do to save her family in this novel from Newbery Medalist Cynthia Kadohata.”


3. Tom McNeal for Far Far Away (Knopf)

“Veteran writer Tom McNeal has crafted a young adult novel at once grim(m) and hopeful, full of twists, and perfect for fans of contemporary fairy tales like Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Holly Black’s Doll Bones. The recipient of five starred reviews, Publishers Weekly called Far Far Away ‘inventive and deeply poignant.'”

Picture Me Gone

4. Meg Rosoff for Picture Me Gone (Putnam)

“Printz Award-winning author Meg Rosoff’s latest novel is a gorgeous and unforgettable page-turner about the relationship between parents and children, love and loss.”


5. Gene Luen Yang for Boxers & Saints (First Second)

“One of the greatest comics storytellers alive brings all his formidable talents to bear in this astonishing new work.”


Frank Bidart for “Metaphysical Dog” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)1.  Frank Bidart for Metaphysical Dog (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

“A vital, searching new collection from one of finest American poets at work today.”

stay, illusion

2. Lucie Brock-Broido for Stay, Illusion (Knopf)

Stay, Illusion, the much-anticipated volume of poems by Lucie Brock-Broido, illuminates the broken but beautiful world she inhabits. Her poems are lit with magic and stark with truth: whether they speak from the imagined dwelling of her “Abandonarium,” or from habitats where animals are farmed and harmed “humanely,” or even from the surreal confines of death row, they find a voice like no other—dazzling, intimate, startling, heartbreaking.”

the big smoke

3. Adrian Matejka for The Big Smoke (Penguin)

“Long listed for the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry—a new collection that examines the myth and history of the prizefighter Jack Johnson.”

Black Aperture

4. Matt Rasmussen for Black Aperture (Louisiana State University Press)

“In his moving debut collection, Matt Rasmussen faces the tragedy of his brother’s suicide, refusing to focus on the expected pathos, blurring the edge between grief and humor.”

Mary Szybist for “Incarnadine” (Graywolf Press)

5. Mary Szybist for Incarnadine (Graywolf Press)

“In Incarnadine, Mary Szybist restlessly seeks out places where meaning might take on new color.”

Only United States citizens are eligible for the award which are administered by the National Book Foundation. The award ceremony is November 20 where we’ll learn who won what.

Do you have any favorites? What book do you think will win each category?

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Review for Peter Weltner’s The Outlands

The Outerlands by Peter Weltner

BrickHouse Books 2012 $18.00

A review by Sonja James

Peter Weltner’s The Outerlands is a superbly crafted book of poems that electrify with their emotional impact. Weltner, who lives in San Francisco, writes sensitive and highly aesthetic poems about the Pacific coast, his family, his sexual orientation, and his struggle with religion and notions of the afterlife. He also writes of art, composers, and various poets who have touched his life.

Throughout the volume Weltner revisits his loss of faith which occurred when he was thirteen. He is openly pained by his inability to believe in God. In “A Walk Down Mount Tamalpais,” he excavates the origins of his lack of faith:


Thirteen, when I lost my faith, I set myself on

a mortal quest. Old age would come and I’d

be done, having learned what I’d sought, all God

had wrought on this earth, and I’d be willing to go.

Is it too late? In ancient Colonus, death brought

one blind to an olive grove. I wait by the sea.


Weltner’s loss of faith and lack of belief in an afterlife informs his poem, “A Dead Man in the Dunes, New Year’s Day.” He posits the life after this one as “nothing” when he states “I’m buying too much stuff: books, CDs, DVDs./There’s not enough time left for me to read,/listen to, look at them. I’ll be nothing too soon.”

He continues this nihilistic trend in the title poem, “The Outerlands,” where he writes of the place where a man drowned “last Sunday.” He describes the loss of the body of the man: “No body has been found washed up on the beach./It’s become unlikely it will ever be recovered,/another soul, his name, lost to Pacific riptides.” He then compares the makeshift gravestone of the man to the wreckage of a ship called the Prince Philip which went down in a tempest in 1886: “It’s mere traces now, fragments/of a vanished world….”

In “Resurrection,” he describes his mother’s death: “I’m always too late. Ninety, she dies alone/in a metallic white, shrilly lit hospital room.” He closes the poem with the conclusion he has drawn about any possibility of an afterlife: “There’s resurrection but not for us.”

The hope of the book lies in the poet’s relationship to other artists, both living and dead. He writes poems that resurrect the dead without glossing over their personal failings. In “Randall Jarrell,” he describes the poet Jarrell at a party given for his step-daughter. He describes it as an evening where “There’s pain in the air.” In “Ezra Pound,” he highlights the anti-Semitism of the Modernist poet, Ezra Pound. He also writes of poets Delmore Schwartz, John Wieners, and George Oppen. He celebrates his love of music by commemorating Joseph Haydn, Rossini, Edvard Grieg, Arnold Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, Shostakovich, and Igor Stravinsky.

Of these poems about composers, one of the most hauntingly beautiful passages is from “Edvard Grieg:” “Such cold is what his music wants to say,/the strange chill of age from the day he was born,/the nip of fall in all he has loved, the notes/of his scores chiseled from ice. That crystalline./That light, impossible to touch or hold, like sleet/to a boy’s delight melting in his hands.”

The sheer virtuosity of the poems in The Outerlands demonstrate that Peter Weltner is a poet to be reckoned with. Both the human condition and the human heart are the subjects of these often gloomy poems where we are allowed to glimpse a moment of salvation when Weltner writes of art and music. This is not a book for the faint-hearted, but then, no work of such brutal soul searching ever is.


Sonja James is the author of Baiting the Hook (the Bunny & the Crocodile Press, 1999), Children of the Moon (Argonne House Press, 2004), and Calling Old Ghosts to Supper (Finishing Line Press, 2013).

Poets are invited to submit recent books for review consideration. Contact Sonja James at