Now entering its third year, the ALA’s Carnegie Medals for Excellence are on their way to becoming a premier national book prize.
The 2014 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence Shortlist
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf)
PW called Adichie’s book a “vibrant tale about love, betrayal, and destiny; about racism; and about a society in which honesty is extinct and cynicism is the national philosophy.” To the women in the hair-braiding salon, Ifemelu seems to have everything a Nigerian immigrant in America could desire. But the culture shock, hardships, and racism she’s endured have left her feeling like she has “cement in her soul.” A decision to return home to Nigeria is the “turning point of the novel’s touching love story and an illuminating portrait of a country still in political turmoil,” notes the PW review.
Claire of the Sea Light, by Edwidge Danticat (Knopf)
PW called the book a “gorgeous, arresting, and profoundly vivid new novel,” that “paints a stunning portrait of this small Haitian town, in which the equally impossible choices of life and death play out every day.” In interlocking stories that move back and forth in time, Danticat evokes the longing felt by inhabitants of the small fishing town of Ville Rose. The stories flow seamlessly one into another and are distinguished by Danticat’s “luminous” prose.
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)
Tartt’s 784-page novel is the only finalist not to earn a star from PW—no matter, earlier this year, the author took home the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The book follows Theo, a smart, 13-year-old Manhattanite, who, in the wake of his nefarious father’s abandonment is extremely close to his vivacious mother—until an act of terrorism catapults him into a dizzying world bereft of gravity, certainty, or love. Star or not, PW loved the book. “There’s a bewitching urgency to the narration that’s impossible to resist,” the review notes, describing the work as a “pleasure to read.”
On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand Year History, by Nicholas A. Basbanes (Knopf)
PW called this effort from journalist and unapologetic bibliophile Basbanes a “wide-ranging, freewheeling, authoritative look” at the means by which paper is “made and recycled, manufactured and repackaged, created for mass consumption and manipulated as art.”
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sheri Fink (Crown)
“They were in a war zone,” observes authors Sheri Fink writing about those stranded inside New Orleans’s Memorial Medical Center in the calamitous wake of Hurricane Katrina. PW called Finks’s chronicle of the chaotic evacuation of the hospital and the agonizing ethical, physical, and emotional quandaries facing Memorial nurses and doctors an “astonishing blend of Pulitzer Prize–winning journalism” and “breathtaking narration.”
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster)
PW observes that “by shining a light on a little-discussed President and a much-discussed one,” bestselling author Goodwin’s narrative around the friendship of two very different Presidents—Roosevelt and William Howard Taft—makes history “very much alive and relevant. Better yet—the party politics are explicitly modern.” Indeed, although the book is primarily concerned with the private lives of two politicians, Goodwin also links both presidents’ fortunes to the rise of “muckraking” journalism.
Earlier this year in my regular PW column, I wrote about my experience serving on the Carnegie selection committee (“My Year of Reading Quickly,” April 25). In that essay, I noted that some of my friends wondered whether the world really needed another book award? Yes, I answered, more than ever. And if the first three years are any indication, in the Carnegie Medals, the ALA has a good one.
Come see what the fuss is about (and have some coffee and dessert) at the third annual Carnegie Medals ceremony, on Saturday, June 28, from 8–10 p.m., at Caesars Palace (in the Octavius 05-08). And be sure, if you haven’t already, to check out the great books on the shortlist and recommend them to your patrons.