Hear The 2012 National Book Award Nominees What are the best of the books? NPR Books looks at this year's National Book Award nominees for fiction and nonfiction. 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.

Hear The 2012 National Book Award Nominees

Listen to Anne Applebaum read from Iron Curtain.

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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

    This Is How You Lose Her

    by Junot Diaz

    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.

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    Title
    This Is How You Lose Her
    Author
    Junot Diaz

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  • A Hologram for the King

    A Hologram for the King

    by Dave Eggers

    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.

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    Title
    A Hologram for the King
    Author
    Dave Eggers

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  • The Round House

    cover image from The Round House

    by Louise Erdrich

    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.

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    Title
    The Round House
    Author
    Louise Erdrich

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  • Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

    Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

    by Ben Fountain

    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.

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    Title
    Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
    Author
    Ben Fountain

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  • The Yellow Birds

    The Yellow Birds

    by Kevin Powers

    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.

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    Title
    The Yellow Birds
    Author
    Kevin Powers

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Nonfiction Nominees