Notable Books

On Sunday, February 11, at the Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Denver, the American Library Association (ALA) announced that Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach (Scribner) and Sherman Alexie’s You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me: A Memoir (Little, Brown) won the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, respectively. The announcement was made at the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA)’s Book and Media Awards (BMAs), sponsored by NoveList. The awards, established in 2012 to highlight quality reading material for adults, are made possible, in part, by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and are cosponsored by RUSA. Finalists and winners are chosen by an annually appointed selection committee, which includes a chair (Victoria Caplinger, 2017–18), one member of the American Booksellers Association, three Booklist editors or contributors, and three former members of the RUSA CODES Notable Books Council.

To collect the fiction medal, Egan’s expansive portrait of a female diver at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II beat out some formidable competition: George Saunders’s Man Booker Prize winner Lincoln in the Bardo (Random) and Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award winner Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner). Alexie’s heartbreaking memoir of his mother, an LJ Best Book, prevailed over Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (Bloomsbury) and David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (Doubleday), a National Book Award finalist and an LJ Best Book. The winning authors receive $5,000 each and the finalists $1,500, and all finalists will be honored during a celebratory event at ALA’s 2018 Annual Conference in New Orleans.

At the BMAs, RUSA also announced the 2018 picks for the Notable Books List, an annual compilation of top titles for adult readers in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The fiction list ranged from significant historical fiction like Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End (Viking) and Wiley Cash’s The Last Ballad (Morrow) to books grappling imaginatively with class, race, and global conflict, e.g., Omar El Akkad’s American War (Knopf) and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (Riverhead). A nice surprise: Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones (Soho), a multi-award-winning Irish novel that clearly yet daringly unfolds in a single sentence.

Nonfiction also touched on history, with books ranging from Ron Chernow’s Grant (Penguin Pr.) to Mark Bowden’s Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam (Atlantic Monthly) to Timothy Tyson’s The Blood of Emmett Till (S. & S.). But the arts were not ignored, as evidenced by Kay Redfield Jamison’s Robert Lowell Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character (Knopf). The poetry selections include William Brewer’s I Know Your Kind (Milkweed), which uses a small-town Appalachia setting to dramatize America’s opioid crisis, and Molly McCully Brown’s Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded (Persea), whose author, born with cerebral palsy, grew up near the titular institution and imagines the fate of inmates there. Both books are debuts.

Notable Books selections are chosen by the Notable Books Council, which comprises 12 expert readers’ advisory and collection development librarians who comb through standard library reviewing sources to find the strongest reviews. The Carnegie Medals longlist, from which the shortlist is chosen, is derived from Notable Books List.


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