Thursday, December 15, 2016

Goodreads Choice Awards, 2016 ed.

The winners of the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards were announced and it's time to share the winners for best Historical Fiction and best History and Biography. More than three million votes were cast. The Choice Awards are always the most interesting to me, more than the Pulitzer, more than the National Book Award or Man Booker Prize, because I GET TO VOTE. Also, it's a popularity contest and I like seeing what nonsense people come up with. Big publishing companies nearly always win. Famous names always win. This year was no exception.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, winner of the Historical Fiction award with a 4.05/5 rating and 22,021 ratings.

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood - where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor - engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven - but the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

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Oprah selected this for her book club, which I guess is now called Book Club 2.0. I don't know how we got to 2.0 but I do know that on average only one book is selected each year. So 1) the selected book must be bananas and 2) not many books are worthy of Oprah's time. Oprah's influence is so far-reaching that The Underground Railroad went to print earlier than expected in order to appease her. Whitehead's novel also won the National Book Award, so I'm sure it's great, but you're lying to yourself if you think that Oprah didn't push this to the forefront. I got maybe 60 pages into this book and gave up. I'll pick it up again, maybe it was just the wrong time for me.

Other nominees in order of first to last: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, The Wonder by Emma Donoghue, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory, The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin, The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee, Last Days of Night by Graham Moore, The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel, To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey, Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom, The North Water by Ian McGuire, News of the World by Paulette Jiles, Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown, Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan, and The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner and David Fisher, winner of the History and Biography award with a 3.79/5 rating and 1,753 ratings.

Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner first crossed paths as actors on the set of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Little did they know that their next roles, in a new science-fiction television series, would shape their lives in ways no one could have anticipated. In seventy-nine television episodes and six feature films, they grew to know each other more than most friends could ever imagine.

Over the course of half a century, Shatner and Nimoy saw each other through personal and professional highs and lows. In this powerfully emotional book, Shatner tells the story of a man who was his friend for five decades, recounting anecdotes and untold stories of their lives on and off set, as well as gathering stories from others who knew Nimoy well, to present a full picture of a rich life.

As much a biography of Nimoy as a story of their friendship, Leonard is a uniquely heartfelt book written by one legendary actor in celebration of another.

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This is what I'm talking about. Plenty of award-worthy historical research and analysis and the majority selects William Shatner's ghost writer telling his Star Trek buddy story.

Other nominees in order of first to last: The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore, First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies by Kate Andersen Brower, Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer by Skip Hollandsworth, Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X by Randy Roberts, Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan by Bill O'Reilly, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick, The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero by Timothy Egan, Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford by Clint Hill, Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto, The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb by Neal Bascomb, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 by Adam Hochschild, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin, Eve of a Hundred Midnights: The Star-Crossed Love Story of Two WWII Correspondents and their Epic Escape Across the Pacific by Bill Lascher, Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard, Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips

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