When I first started this blog, I looked to the Guardian First Book Award list for books to read and write about. Like the Center for Fiction First Novel prize list, this award often singles out books that I have really enjoyed and notices books off the beaten path, widening the readership of an array of new authors. I continue to value their choices.
This year’s long list is out and it includes a quirky Irish novel that was nominated by their readers: Sara Baume’s, Spill Simmer Falter Wither, which is about the relationship between an older man and his rescue dog. The book was published by a small press in Ireland. I find it remarkable, and exciting, that this book has developed such a following that enough readers voted for it, and wonder if a title published by a small press in the US could build a similarly enthusiastic popular following.
The long list contains a combination of first novels, a short story collection and books of non-fiction, with many titles being published by small presses. It includes, Nell Zink, who is getting a lot of press for her debut, The Wallcreeper, and Chigozie Obioma whose book, The Fishermen, has also been nominated for a Booker Prize.
Check out the list…which books stand out to you?
Next up I review Disgruntled by Asali Solomon.
The Guardian First Book Award does a great job surfacing interesting debuts in both the fiction and non-fiction categories. The longlist came out last week. The winner will be announced in November. The 2013 winner was Donal Ryan for his unique novel, The Spinning Heart and in 2012 it went to Kevin Powers for The Yellow Birds, a book I reviewed last year and really loved.
You can view the complete 2014 longlist at the bottom of this Guardian article. Of the fiction titles, Zia Haider Rahman’s In the Light of What We Know and Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest have been widely reviewed. This was the first I had heard of Sarah Perry’s, After Me Comes the Flood, which was published by a small press in the UK (Serpent’s Tail) and tells the story of a man who, after his car breaks down, stumbles onto a home in the woods where he finds all of his belongings. The story is described as surreal and moving, reminiscent of Sebald.
On the non-fiction side, there was a memoir that stood out to me, Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm, which recounts his life and work as a neurosurgeon.
Happy summer reading all…a new review to come next week…
The Yellow Birds
By Kevin Powers
Little Brown and Company, 2012
Privates John Bartle and Daniel Murphy meet in 2003 at Fort Dix. Bartle is 21 and Murphy is 18. In 2004, they ship out to Al Faraf, Iraq where life becomes complicated, and Bartle has to live with a promise he made to Murphy’s mom to keep Murphy safe. Told from a close first person point of view, which alternates between scenes in Iraq and scenes after coming home, Bartle tells the story of his and Murphy’s time in Iraq.
This book is moving and insightful. I agree with other reviewers who have called The Yellow Birds the Iraq equivalent of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Powers writes with simple, yet poetic prose which taps into a deep emotional cord as he conveys the haunting details of war, some of which include counting the dead bodies Bartle and Murhpy see pile up in Iraq, drinking whiskey during battle and noting battle fronts that open annually as the seasons change. This is a powerful and personal story.
Powers was nominated for the National Book Award, won the Guardian First Book Award, and made it on many of the Best of 2012 lists. I wasn’t sure if I was going to read this book, as it has been reviewed in many blogs and periodicals, but it felt like a “must read” of 2012, and it completely lived up to all my expectations. Powers was a gunner in Iraq and this story feels very emotionally true. If you have a stomach for war stories, The Yellow Birds will not disappoint.
Oprah started a new book club, Oprah 2.0, and with her second book choice she is launching the career of Ayana Mathis. Mathis’ The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is a debut novel, out next year, that tells the story of a teenage girl making the Great Migration from Georgia to Philadelphia. Oprah likens the book to Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
As the Best Books Of lists start to come out, Kevin Powers not only won the Guardian First Book Award, but he made it on to the NYT ten best books list for 2012 for his debut Yellow Birds.
Over at the Goodreads Choice Awards, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which I reviewed last week, came in in the top ten, as did another book I will review later this month, Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home. They are two of a handful of debut books I saw on that list.
Any debut books you particularly liked from this year? Leave a comment with the author name and title.
The Guardian First Book Award is a reliable place to learn about new books and authors. I was surprised that one of the books I think is one of the best debut novels of the year, Patrick Flanery’s, Absolution (review forthcoming here), did not make the shortlist. But two others that I want read, Kevin Powers’, Yellow Birds and Kerry Hudson’s, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma made the list. The list also includes non-fiction works, most notably Katherine Boo’s, Behind the Beautiful Forevers.