National Book Award winners
Holes

Holes

This is such a fun story, no matter your age. Stanley Yelnats is a boy with a history of bad luck–all brought on by his "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather." Yelnats ends up at Camp Green Lake—a juvenile detention center, where there is no lake--and has to dig a giant hole every day in the hot sun. The boys soon discover there may be more to this hole-digging business than punishment. Young people's literature, 1998. More info →
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The Complete Stories: Flannery O’Connor

The Complete Stories: Flannery O’Connor

Fun fact: in 2009, the National Book Foundation conducted a poll in which voters elected Flannery's work the best book to have win the National Book Award. Her award-winning volume includes thirty-one stories in all, including the classics Everything That Rises Must Converge, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and The River. O'Connor's work is weird, imaginative, grotesque, and unforgettable. Fiction, 1972. More info →
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Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me

This is an incredible book, and a timely one. Coates frames this series of essays as a letter to his son, exploring what it means to be black in America, and how issues involving race have shaped and continue to shape the country in which he lives. Nonfiction, 2015. More info →
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Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming

Forget everything you've heard about this being an "important" book. All you need to know is this story is fantastic, and it absolutely comes alive when read by the author herself. Woodson tells the story of her childhood, moving with her family (or part of it) from South Carolina to New York City and back again, sharing her observations through a young girl's eyes with a writer's sensibility. Young people's literature, 2014. More info →
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The Shipping News

The Shipping News

$11.99$1.99
A What Should I Read Next guest talked me into adding the paperback to my personal collection; I'm reading it myself for this category. The publisher calls this Pulitzer winner "a vigorous, darkly comic, and at times magical portrait of the contemporary North American family." Fiction, 1993. More info →
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The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking

$15.00
This book is Didion's account of year following her husband's death, but it's really about the many years of the life they lived together. Writing in real-time, she captures emotion on the page so well. I felt like this wasn't just an exploration of her own grief and mourning, but an inquiry into capital-case Grief and Mourning. So well done, and so worth reading (if a little tough to do so at times). Nonfiction, 2005. More info →
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Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones

This one is a National Book Award AND Alex Award winner—that's an overlap you don't often see! I'm reading this now (because I couldn't decide which book to read for this category!) Incredible prose and a haunting story about a Southern family living in poverty against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina. Fiction, 2011. Bonus pick: Ward's 2017 National Book Award Winner (Fiction) Sing, Unburied, Sing. More info →
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Head Off & Split: Poems

Head Off & Split: Poems

Finney is a contemporary American poet and a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, a group of black Appalachian poets. Politics are no stranger to her poetry, but in this, her latest collection, her activism moves to the forefront: Rosa Parks, Strom Thurmond, Condoleeza Rice, George Bush, and Hurricane Katrina all appear in this collection. Poetry, 2011. More info →
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The Spectator Bird

The Spectator Bird

I picked this up after reading Stegner’s later novels Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose. I had to sit with it for weeks before I could begin to wrap my brain around what, exactly, Stegner was trying to say. Maybe that’s because the novel itself asks hard questions, and offers no easy answers. It’s a short read—only 224 pages—but if you’ve never read Stegner, I don’t recommend starting here. Pensive, wistful, thoughtful. Fiction winner, 1977. More info →
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The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

In this imaginative piece of historical fiction, the Underground Railroad of history becomes a subway—an actual locomotive, powered by coal and running on actual track below the surface. Whitehead drew inspiration from Gulliver's Travels and real-life heroine Harriet Jacobs for his story of Cora, a Georgia slave who sets out on a heroic quest to find freedom in the North. Fiction, 2016, AND a 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction. More info →
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