Hear The 2012 National Book Award Nominees

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books with headphones on
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Publishers, reporters and authors gathered Tuesday at the New School in New York City to celebrate this year's exceptional nominees for the National Book Awards. In advance of the awards on Wednesday night, NPR recorded the 10 nominated authors for fiction and nonfiction reading from their works.

These 10 books — which tell the stories of a young drug smuggler, lovable philanderers, holograms in the Saudi desert, and more — inspired, informed and entertained readers in 2012.

Hear two winners — Louise Erdrich and Katherine Boo — and eight finalists as they read from some of the year's best books.

Fiction Nominees

This Is How You Lose Her

by Junot Diaz

Hardcover, 213 pages, Riverhead Hardcover, $26.95, published September 11 2012 | purchase

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This Is How You Lose Her
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Junot Diaz

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Junot Diaz's latest book of short stories, This is How You Lose Her, revolves around a colorful collective of philanderers. In his unique street style of Spanglish and slang, Diaz explores the infidelities, inconsistencies and indescribable joys of love. As Fresh Air's Maureen Corrigan writes, "A good man is hard to find in these stories, and when you do find him, he's always in bed with someone else."

Listen to Diaz read from This Is How You Lose Her.

News and Reviews

A Hologram for the King

by Dave Eggers

Hardcover, 312 pages, McSweeney's, $25, published June 19 2012 | purchase

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A Hologram for the King
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Dave Eggers

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In lovely, pared-down prose (by Dave Eggers' standards, that is) A Hologram for the King recounts the trials of consultant Alan Clay, hounded by steep debts and a weird lump on his neck, as he tries to sell holographic technology to the Saudi king. Unsurprisingly, Clay is swept up from his tent in the desert into various Kafkaesque misadventures in the King Abdullah Economic City. The trademark Eggers quirk factor is offset by unusually beautiful writing, and Eggers offers elegant commentary on some of our most pressing national anxieties — insecurities about outsourcing and global competitiveness, not to mention sexting, alienation in the digital age and, of course, weird lumps.

Listen to Eggers read from A Hologram for the King.

cover image from The Round House

The Round House

by Louise Erdrich

Hardcover, 321 pages, Harper, $27.99, published October 2 2012 | purchase

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The Round House
Author
Louise Erdrich

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In Louise Erdrich's latest novel, The Round House, an Ojibwe woman suffers a savage assault — she is raped and doused in gasoline. Her young son and his friends set out to find her attacker. Reviewer Alan Cheuse writes that this is Erdrich's best novel yet: "Never before has she given us a novel with a single narrative voice so smart, rich and full of surprises as she has in The Round House." The book is laced with emotional nuance, and demonstrates in painful detail the legal and cultural obstacles to prosecuting rapists on a North Dakota reservation.

Listen to Erdrich read from The Round House.

News and Reviews

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

by Ben Fountain

Hardcover, 307 pages, HarperCollins, $25.99, published May 1 2012 | purchase

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Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Author
Ben Fountain

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Billy Lynn, the 19-year-old protagonist of Ben Fountain's novel, has just returned from Iraq. When a cameraman happens to film Billy's company in a skirmish, the footage quickly goes viral, turning Billy and his companions into national heroes. The author tells NPR's Laura Sullivan, "I wanted to try to capture the intense experience that Billy and the other Bravos are having, this very vivid, almost-overwhelming sensory experience. ... I didn't want to give the reader a rest." He achieves this with prose that is vivid, vulgar and squirming with life. Commentator Nancy Pearl calls it "one of the most moving and remarkable novels I've ever read."

Listen to Fountain read from Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.

News and Reviews

The Yellow Birds

by Kevin Powers

Hardcover, 230 pages, Little Brown & Co, $24.99, published September 11 2012 | purchase

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The Yellow Birds
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Kevin Powers

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Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds details the friendship between two privates who serve together in Iraq, and later navigate a tense homecoming. As he charts how war binds and breaks the men, Powers' poetic language gives intimacy and intensity to the conflicts of war, and the conflicts within ourselves.

Listen to Powers read from The Yellow Birds.

News and Reviews

Nonfiction Nominees

Iron Curtain

The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956

by Anne Applebaum

Hardcover, 566 pages, Doubleday, $35, published October 30 2012 | purchase

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Title
Iron Curtain
Subtitle
The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956
Author
Anne Applebaum

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Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain explores the domino effect of communism in the wake of World War II. Before the Soviet bloc went bust, its network of regimes created an atmosphere of paranoia and brutality that would affect millions. As Stalin extended his suffocating reach, he provoked an identity crisis in a dozen different countries that still echoes today.

Listen to Applebaum read from Iron Curtain.

News and Reviews

Behind The Beautiful Forevers

Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

by Katherine Boo

Hardcover, 256 pages, Random House Inc, $27, published February 7 2012 | purchase

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Behind The Beautiful Forevers
Subtitle
Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
Author
Katherine Boo

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In Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo, a New Yorker staff writer, chronicles the lives of those who exist in the shadow of modern India — the residents of the Annawadi slum in Mumbai. With poetic prose, Boo brings life and beauty to the teeming slums, casting a light on the dreams and downfalls of those who struggle to lift themselves from abject poverty.

Listen to Boo read from Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

News and Reviews

The Passage Of Power

The Years Of Lyndon Johnson

by Robert A. Caro

Hardcover, 712 pages, Random House Inc, $35, published May 1 2012 | purchase

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Title
The Passage Of Power
Subtitle
The Years Of Lyndon Johnson
Author
Robert A. Caro

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The word "hefty" fails to describe Robert Caro's The Passage of Power. The fourth installment in this monumental biography of Lyndon B. Johnson doesn't disappoint, entrancing readers with Caro's trademark combination of assiduous research and spellbinding prose. Even four volumes later, tackling the notoriously complex and controversial president is no easy task. Yet as critic Michael Schaub remarks, "Caro's portrayal of the president is as scrupulously fair as it is passionate and deeply felt."

Listen to Caro read from The Passage of Power.

News and Reviews

The Boy Kings of Texas

by Domingo Martinez

Paperback, 443 pages, Globe Pequot Pr, $16.95, published July 3 2012 | purchase

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Title
The Boy Kings of Texas
Author
Domingo Martinez

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Domingo Martinez's painfully honest memoir of growing up in a Texas border town describes family drug smuggling and his grandmother's short-lived pet piglet. In a commentary for All Things Considered, Martinez writes: "I didn't know how to write memoir. But I found that when I told people about growing up in Brownsville, Texas — it sounded to them like stories from another world. Stories about families swapping children, and smuggling drugs with my parents, or my whole family sending out a chain letter, terrified of what would happen if we didn't. Those stories astonished people ... so I wrote them down."

Listen to Martinez read from The Boy Kings of Texas.

News and Reviews

House Of Stone

A Memoir Of Home, Family, And A Lost Middle East

by Anthony Shadid

Hardcover, 311 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, published February 28 2012 | purchase

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Title
House Of Stone
Subtitle
A Memoir Of Home, Family, And A Lost Middle East
Author
Anthony Shadid

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In this exquisitely realized memoir, published shortly after his death, New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid writes about his return to Lebanon, where he slowly rebuilt his great-grandfather's abandoned house. The House of Stone melds the thoroughness of reportage with the elegance of poetry as it chronicles the history of Shadid's house, his family and, ultimately, Lebanon.

Listen to Nada Bakri read from her late husband's book, House of Stone.

News and Reviews

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