Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, September 18, 2017

The long and short of book awards in 2017

Now that we've finished up with the Emmys(congrats to the folks involved with Big Little Lies and The Handmaid's Tale for their wins), the next major pop culture award show speculation is all about books,..well,for some of us at least.

The long lists of nominees for The National Book Award were released last week, with the finalists due to be announced on October 4 and the winners to be celebrated on November 17.

As much as I appreciate all four of the categories,which include non-fiction and young adult, my focal point here is on fiction and I was so thrilled to see a book chosen that not only had I recently finished to be on that list, it's also one of the best novels that I have read this year.

Pachinko is the second novel written by Min Jin Lee, who took several years to work on the book in order to get the emotional nuances of the story right.

Part of that research included living in Japan and looking deeper into the cultural history between Korea and Japan, which is at the heart of this multi-generational tale. It begins in Korea, where Sunja, a young girl from a poor yet loving family, falls in love with Hansu, a much older man who neglects to tell her about his wife and children.

When she becomes pregnant, Sunja refuses to live as Hansu's mistress and her family honor is saved by marrying a kind hearted missionary who moves their new family to Japan on the eve of WWII. As Sunja's children and grandchildren face the hardships and prejudices that society inflicts upon them, that certain secret from the past throws a long shadow over their lives in most unexpected ways.

This is a sad at times yet also beautiful at times story that deals with the conflicts between love and duty, honesty and truth and the desire to stay true to heritage while wanting to belong to the majority in control. It's themes of cultural identity and family love are truly universal and I hope that this is not the only book award that Pachinko is in the serious running for:

I'm quite confident that Pachinko will be in the NBA shortlist, along with Jesmyn Ward's newest book, Sing,Unburied Sing, that is getting high praise from readers and critics alike.

The story is set in modern day Mississippi, where young Jojo and his younger sister Kayla live with their grandparents, Mam, who is dying from cancer and Pop, doing his best to take care of the household as well as raise his grandchildren right.

Jojo's mother Leonie is in and out of their lives, haunted by the death of her beloved brother and a persistent drug habit. When the father of her children is due to be released from prison,Leonie takes Jojo and Kayla, plus a friend of hers, along for the long ride across the state to be reunited with him. Their journey is fraught with numerous risks, not to mention the possibility of little to be gained by the end of it.

Jesmyn Ward has won the NBA before, for her novel Salvage the Bones, but unlike some award shows, I don't think that will be seen as a reason to set this work aside. In fact, a second win could change the game for her, taking these stories of heartfelt realism from the regular literary circles into a mainstream market with a wider audience for such lyrical yet harsh beauty:

 Meanwhile, the Man Booker Prize in England has announced their short list of fiction nominees, with the awards ceremony set for October 17.

 Over the years, the Man Booker has expanded their horizons for nomination, adding Canada and the US along with a few other countries for consideration. That has allowed for a strong variety of books to be featured and focused on, with a few breakout stars in their midst to be found as well.

One of those stars is Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, set in an unnamed country where erstwhile lovers,Nadia and Saeed, soon find that they have no choice but to flee for their lives.

Their method of transport are specially enpowered doors, placed in random areas that are well protected yet available for a price. Nadia and Saeed land on a Grecian island and are beginning to make a real life for themselves when more and more refugees flood in, causing them to be on the move again and again.

This search for home while the whole world is in chaos is a timely theme that the author engagingly embraces, offering a mix of magic and down to earthiness that makes this book more than just a talking point. It layers the evolving conflict with humanity, something that tends to be lost in the arguments yet is what makes this issue so relevant for fictional and real world folks alike:

Speaking of fictional and real people, George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo mixes and matches both in this novel, another big contender for the Man Booker.

The "bardo" of the title refers to a limbo like residence for the dead, a realm that is disturbed as Abraham Lincoln spends one long night at the family crypt to hold a one man vigil for his recently departed son Willie.

As most of the spirits relive their past mistakes in life and fight among themselves, two of them decided to help young Willie move on to the next world. Roger Bevins, who ended his life after a broken off romance, and Hans Vollman, who died by accident just as his new marriage was about to begin, take this responsibility for the young Lincoln on as the father is torn between his grief and responsibilities to the living.

Saunders has showcased his brand of off-beat storytelling before in his many short story collections but based on the reviews that I've seen and heard, this is next level work even for him. In a way, it would be oddly fitting(as well as weird) if a novel about an American president wins a British book award but stranger things have happened,I guess:

Well, I am happy that there is one book in this potential award winning bunch that I've read(and yes, will be rooting for) and I might try to read a couple of others but perhaps not just yet.

My hesitation isn't due to the quality of the work, it's more about dealing with the many books that I have on hand at the moment. One of those current reads will probably add a few new titles to my TBR piles, Books for Living by Will Schwalbe.

Schwalbe talks about a variety of books, ranging from The Girl on the Train to Stuart Little and Reading Lolita in Tehran, that in their own unintentional way taught him about different aspects of life such as trust, friendship and problem solving. The whole point of this book seems to be finding meaning in your reading without trying to make all of your reading meaningful, if that makes sense.

Well, take award winning(or potentially award winning) books for example-many people feel they have to get these books in order to be considered a "serious" reader, since any book up for a major award must be a meaningful read. However, if you don't feel any connection to the story during your reading of it(or find it hard to even get a good start there), there is no meaning to be found for you,especially if your true motive is only to impress others.

Better to try a couple of them out to see if they suit you or challenge you in a way that makes the page turning a pleasure rather than a chore. A book doesn't have to award winning to be a good read but it's a nice bonus when it does:

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