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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.