Your Primer To The 2013 National Book Award Finalists

Too busy to read ten books by November? Here’s a guide to the fiction and nonfiction finalists so at your next literary cocktail party, you can blurt out something vaguely knowledgeable before running to the bar for a refill.

1. James McBride, The Good Lord Bird

In which the beloved author of The Color of Water delivers a romping suspense story: a young slave boy must pass as a girl in order to escape and survive.

2. Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers

In which there are many motorcycles, performance artists, and radical political trouble makers.

3. Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland

In which things do not turn out so well for two brothers from Calcutta.

4. Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge

In which there are foot fetishists, hip hop gangsters, and sentient computers; in other words everyone you’d expect to meet in a Pynchon novel. Just don’t expect to meet Pynchon at the actual awards dinner.

5. George Saunders, Tenth of December

In which a master of the blazingly odd and original short story gathers together tales of love, loss and misfits.

6. Jill Lepore, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin

In which the long-forgotten sister of Ben Franklin is meticulously and vividly restored to the historical record.

7. Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832

In which we learn that the British played an important role in ending American slavery.

8. George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America

In which a leading thinker of our time confirms that, yes, America is doomed.

9. Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields

In which we feel even worse, learning how many German women were complicit in World War II genocide.

10. Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief

In which we feel a touch better, when a New Yorker writer reveals that Scientologists are EVEN CRAZIER THAN YOU THOUGHT.

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