I have to admit, I never paid much attention to the National Book Award until Colum McCann won for his novel Let the Great World Spin in 2009. I had never paid much attention to Colum McCann, either, but suddenly the red and beige cover of his book was everywhere. On a whim, I picked it up (oh the joys of working in a bookstore—so many whims satisfied), and after reading just the prologue I was irrevocably hooked. I love that book. It became my favorite novel of 2009, and I still revisit it from time to time.
When the National Book Award winners for 2010 were announced, I remembered my experience with McCann’s novel. It’s so easy to fall into a reading rut (yes, even when you work at a bookstore), when you find you can’t focus on one book long enough to really sink into it. I was in one of those, and I wanted out. So, on another whim, I decided to read all four of the National Book Award winners for 2010 (Fiction, Nonfiction, Biography, and Young Adult Literature). I don’t usually do resolutions in the new year, but I figured it was as good an excuse as any to introduce a few new writers into my life.
I started with Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids. I should probably mention before I go on that before I read her book, I knew nothing about Patti Smith. I had never listened to her music or read her poetry, and I knew nothing about her longtime partner and friend, Robert Mapplethorpe. I was sorely ignorant of all things Patti. But I loved her book; I devoured it in nearly one gulp on a December afternoon. It’s about young love and the bond she shared with Mapplethorpe, but also about her impassioned, all-encompassing dedication to becoming an artist. It’s also a portrait of New York City at a specific time—the late 1960s—complete with a cast of characters infamous and iconic. In reading her memoir, I have gained a new hero.
Next up: Kathryn Erskine’s young adult novel Mockingbird.