10 Prize-Winning Books to Read During Book Awards Season

October 29 2019
Share 10 Prize-Winning Books to Read During Book Awards Season

With the National Book Awards around the corner—think the Oscars but for books—we’re celebrating wins with our favorite authors and reminiscing on prize-winning fiction from the past. Here are some award-winning novels we’re forever reading and recommending.

The Shipping News
by Annie Proulx

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 1994

THE SHIPPING NEWS is a vigorous, darkly comic, and magical portrait of a contemporary family that moves to Newfoundland where they must face their personal demons as a long winter closes in.

Read the full review of THE SHIPPING NEWS.

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The Shipping News
Annie Proulx

Awarded the prize in 1994, THE SHIPPING NEWS is an enchanting look at the contemporary American family. When a third-rate newspaper hack’s cheating wife dies, he and his daughters move to Newfoundland, where they must face their personal demons as a long winter closes in.

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Bel Canto
by Ann Patchett

Winner of the PEN Faulkner Award for Fiction, 2002

BEL CANTO is set in South America at a birthday party hosted by the country’s vice president. Rozanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has just finished a mesmerizing performance when a band of terrorists breaks into the house and holds everyone for ransom.

Read the full review of BEL CANTO.

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Bel Canto
Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett’s 2001 novel is set somewhere in South America at a birthday party hosted by the country’s vice president. Rozanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has just finished a mesmerizing performance when a band of terrorists breaks into the house and holds everyone for ransom. Salon calls Bel Canto “a story of passionate, doomed love; of the glory of art; of the triumph of our shared humanity over the forces that divide us.” OTS calls it “the most elegant, meditative hostage-takeover novel ever.”

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The Luminaries
by Eleanor Catton

Winner of the Man Booker Prize, 2013

Eleanor Catton’s gorgeous, vivid writing makes the scenes in this masterpiece—like the one in which 12 men secretly gather to discuss a series of baffling events—unforgettable. Rich and utterly absorbing, THE LUMINARIES is an incredible tale of fortunes and fates set amid New Zealand’s gold rush.

Read the full review of THE LUMINARIES.

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The Luminaries
Eleanor Catton

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Mr. Mercedes
by Stephen King

Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel, 2015

Retired cop Bill Hodges feels depressed and purposeless, still haunted by the one that got away—a sadistic killer who drove a Mercedes into the crowd at a job fair. But when he receives a taunting letter from someone claiming to be the Mercedes killer, Hodges will have to come out of retirement to prevent another massacre.

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Mr. Mercedes
Stephen King

Retired cop Bill Hodges feels depressed and purposeless, still haunted by the one that got away—a sadistic killer who drove a Mercedes into the crowd at a job fair. But when he receives a taunting letter from someone claiming to be the Mercedes killer, Hodges will have to come out of retirement to prevent another massacre.

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The Blazing World
by Siri Hustvedt

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, 2014

After years of being overlooked in the New York art scene, Harriet Burden hatches a plan to bring her brilliance to light: she enlists three young men to present her work as their own and, almost instantly, her art is a success. When she steps forward to take the credit, the third man betrays her, leading to a complex and fatal game of cat and mouse. Intricate and provocative, Siri Hustvedt’s THE BLAZING WORLD reconstructs its explosive story through letters, newspaper clippings, and journal entries.

Read the full review of THE BLAZING WORLD.

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The Blazing World
Siri Hustvedt

Intellectually ambitious, electric in its prose, and emotionally satisfying, The Blazing World confronts the joy and fury of Harriet Burden, an artist whose work has long been dismissed and ignored by the male-dominated art world. Longlisted for 2014’s prestigious Man Booker Prize and described by NPR as “complex, astonishing, harrowing, and utterly, completely engrossing,” it is a polyphonic tour de force from one of America’s most fearless writers.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward

National Book Award Winner for Fiction, 2017

Thirteen-year-old Jojo and his younger sister accompany their mother on a trip through Mississippi to pick up their father from the state penitentiary. This evocative family saga examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power—and limitations—of family bonds.

Read the full review of SING, UNBURIED, SING.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing
Jesmyn Ward

WINNER of the NATIONAL BOOK AWARD and A NEW YORK TIMES TOP 10 BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

A finalist for the Kirkus Prize, Andrew Carnegie Medal, Aspen Words Literary Prize, and a New York Times bestseller, this majestic, stirring, and widely praised novel from two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, the story of a family on a journey through rural Mississippi, is a “tour de force” (O, The Oprah Magazine) and a timeless work of fiction that is destined to become a classic.

Jesmyn Ward’s historic second National Book Award–winner is “perfectly poised for the moment” (The New York Times), an intimate portrait of three generations of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. “Ward’s writing throbs with life, grief, and love… this book is the kind that makes you ache to return to it” (Buzzfeed).

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic and unforgettable family story and “an odyssey through rural Mississippi’s past and present” (The Philadelphia Inquirer).

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There There
by Tommy Orange

Winner of the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, 2018

THERE THERE is a powerful and timely ensemble novel of 12 unforgettable characters—all urban Native Americans living in Oakland, California—who converge and collide on one fateful day at the Big Oakland Powwow. It's a fierce, funny, suspenseful, and modern portrait of an America few of us have ever seen, and one of the most talked about books of the year.

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There There
Tommy Orange

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Home Fire
by Kamila Shamsie

Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2018

Isma accepts an invitation to pursue her dreams in America, but she can’t stop worrying about the younger siblings she leaves behind: Aneeka, her beautiful but headstrong sister living in London, and Parvaiz, her brother who disappeared and submitted himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. Then the son of a powerful political figure enters the picture, pushing both families to a breaking point. HOME FIRE is an incredible story of an immigrant family driven to pit love against loyalty, with devastating consequences.

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Home Fire
Kamila Shamsie

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A Crime in the Neighborhood
by Suzanne Berne

Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, 1999

With Suzanne Berne’s newest novel, THE BLUE WINDOW, coming out in January, we’re looking back at her prize-winning debut novel. Taking place in 1972 in the Washington D.C. suburbs during the summer of the Watergate Hotel break-ins, Suzanne Berne’s first book is a profoundly affecting portrait of community following a brutal sexual assault and murder with a child’s testimony serving as the only reliable lead in case. Exploring ethical issues seldom seen in a debut novel, A CRIME IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD is an all-consuming, coming of age tale that illustrates the loss of innocence by a young girl, a local community, and the country as a whole.

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A Crime in the Neighborhood
Suzanne Berne

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Cuba
by Ada Ferrer

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History, 2022

Ada Ferrer’s CUBA is a detailed history of the ties between the island and the United States from the preeminent Latin American scholar. Ferrer considers her book an “An American History” because of the “sometimes intimate, sometimes explosive, always uneven relationship between the two countries…” As she covers more than five centuries, she offers readers a firsthand account of the nation’s rise to the global stage. Along the way, Ferrer dedicates time to explain the U.S.’s role in exploiting the island and how Cuba’s identity was molded as a result of this tenuous relationship.

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Cuba
Ada Ferrer

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE IN HISTORY
WINNER OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE IN HISTORY

“Full of…lively insights and lucid prose” (The Wall Street Journal) an epic, sweeping history of Cuba and its complex ties to the United States—from before the arrival of Columbus to the present day—written by one of the world’s leading historians of Cuba.

In 1961, at the height of the Cold War, the United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, where a momentous revolution had taken power three years earlier. For more than half a century, the stand-off continued—through the tenure of ten American presidents and the fifty-year rule of Fidel Castro. His death in 2016, and the retirement of his brother and successor Raúl Castro in 2021, have spurred questions about the country’s future. Meanwhile, politics in Washington—Barack Obama’s opening to the island, Donald Trump’s reversal of that policy, and the election of Joe Biden—have made the relationship between the two nations a subject of debate once more.

Now, award-winning historian Ada Ferrer delivers an “important” (The Guardian) and moving chronicle that demands a new reckoning with both the island’s past and its relationship with the United States. Spanning more than five centuries, Cuba: An American History provides us with a front-row seat as we witness the evolution of the modern nation, with its dramatic record of conquest and colonization, of slavery and freedom, of independence and revolutions made and unmade.

Along the way, Ferrer explores the sometimes surprising, often troubled intimacy between the two countries, documenting not only the influence of the United States on Cuba but also the many ways the island has been a recurring presence in US affairs. This is a story that will give Americans unexpected insights into the history of their own nation and, in so doing, help them imagine a new relationship with Cuba; “readers will close [this] fascinating book with a sense of hope” (The Economist).

Filled with rousing stories and characters, and drawing on more than thirty years of research in Cuba, Spain, and the United States—as well as the author’s own extensive travel to the island over the same period—this is a stunning and monumental account like no other.

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