National Book Award for Fiction

National Book Award logo

National Book Award for Fiction

National Book Award logo

The National Book Awards were established in 1936 by the American Booksellers Association, abandoned during World War II, and re-established by three book industry organizations in 1950. They are presented to U.S. authors for books published in the United States roughly during the award year. The National Book Award for Fiction is one of four annual National Book Awards, which recognize outstanding literary work by US citizens. Since 1987 they are administered and presented by the National Book Foundation, but they are awards “by writers to writers”. The panelists are five “writers who are known to be doing great work in their genre or field”. The award is $10,000 and a bronze sculpture; other finalists get $1000, a medal, and a citation written by the panel.

Below is a complete list of the post-war winners, from the current winner all the way back to 1950 – browse and enjoy.

2016
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North. In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates 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 the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.

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2015
Fortune Smiles – Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson takes you into the minds of characters you never thought you would meet – a former Stasi prison warden in denial of his past, a refugee from North Korea unsettled by his new freedom, a UPS driver in hurricane-torn Louisiana looking for the mother of his son. These are tales of love and loss, natural disasters, the influence of technology, and how the political shapes the personal. Tender, wry, utterly compelling, they show us humanity where you might least expect it.

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2014
Redeployment – Phil Klay

Phil Klay’s Redeployment takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned. Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos. In Redeployment, a soldier who has had to shoot dogs because they were eating human corpses must learn what it is like to return to domestic life in suburbia, surrounded by people “who have no idea where Fallujah is, where three members of your platoon died.” In “After Action Report”, a Lance Corporal seeks expiation for a killing he didn’t commit, in order that his best friend will be unburdened. A Morturary Affairs Marine tells about his experiences collecting remains—of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers both. A chaplain sees his understanding of Christianity, and his ability to provide solace through religion, tested by the actions of a ferocious Colonel. And in the darkly comic “Money as a Weapons System”, a young Foreign Service Officer is given the absurd task of helping Iraqis improve their lives by teaching them to play baseball. These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship and violence that make up a soldier’s daily life at war, and the isolation, remorse, and despair that can accompany a soldier’s homecoming.

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2013
The Good Lord Bird – James McBride

Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857, when the region is a battleground between anti – and pro – slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry’s master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town – with Brown, who believes he’s a girl. Over the ensuing months, Henry – whom Brown nicknames Little Onion – conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive. Eventually Little Onion finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 – one of the great catalysts for the Civil War. An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.

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2012
The Round House – Louise Erdrich

One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen – year – old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared. While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning. Written with undeniable urgency, and illuminating the harsh realities of contemporary life in a community where Ojibwe and white live uneasily together, The Round House is a brilliant and entertaining novel, a masterpiece of literary fiction. Louise Erdrich embraces tragedy, the comic, a spirit world very much present in the lives of her all – too – human characters, and a tale of injustice that is, unfortunately, an authentic reflection of what happens in our own world today.

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2011
Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward

A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. He’s a hard drinker, largely absent, and it isn’t often he worries about the family. Esch and her three brothers are stocking up on food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; at fifteen, she has just realized that she’s pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pit bull’s new litter, dying one by one. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting. As the twelve days that make up the novel’s framework yield to a dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family – motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce – pulls itself up to face another day.

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2010
Lord of Misrule – Jaimy Gordon

Tommy Hansel has a plan: run four horses, all better than they look on paper, at long odds at Indian Mound Downs, then grab the purse — or cash a bet — and run before anyone s the wiser. At his side is Maggie Koderer, who finds herself powerfully drawn to the gorgeous, used up animals of the cheap track. She also lands in the cross-hairs of leading trainer Joe Dale Bigg. But as news of Tommy s plan spreads, from veteran groom Medicine Ed, to loan shark Two-Tie, to Kidstuff the blacksmith, it s Maggie, not Tommy or the handlers of legendary stakes horse Lord of Misrule, who will find what’s valuable in a world where everything has a price.

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2009
Let the Great World Spin – Colum McCann

New York, August 1974: a man is walking in the sky. Between the newly built Twin Towers, the man twirls through the air. Far below, the lives of complete strangers spin towards each other: Corrigan, a radical Irish monk working in the Bronx; Claire, a delicate Upper East Side housewife reeling from the death of her son; Lara, a drug – addled young artist; Gloria, solid and proud despite decades of hardship; Tillie, a hooker who used to dream of a better life; and, Jazzlyn, her beautiful daughter raised on promises that reach beyond the skyline of New York. In the shadow of one reckless and beautiful act, these disparate lives will collide, and be transformed for ever.

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2008
Shadow Country – Peter Matthiessen

Inspired by a near – mythic event of the wild Florida frontier at the turn of the twentieth century, Shadow Country reimagines the legend of the inspired Everglades sugar planter and notorious outlaw E. J. Watson, who drives himself to his own violent end at the hands of his neighbours. His son Lucius investigates the killing which has come to obsess him. In this bold new rendering of the Watson trilogy Matthiessen has deepened the insights and motivations of his characters, consolidating his fictional masterwork into a poetic, compelling novel of a monumental scope and ambition, with breathtaking accomplishment.

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2007
Tree of Smoke – Denis Johnson

Tree of Smoke the name given to a ‘psy op’ that might or might not be hypothetical and might or might not be officially sanctioned is Denis Johnson’s most gripping, visionary and ambitious work to date. Set in south – east Asia and the US, and spanning two decades, it ostensibly tells the story of Skip Sands, a CIA spy who may or may not be engaged in psychological operations against the Viet Cong – but also takes the reader on a surreal yet vivid journey, dipping in and out of characters’ lives to reveal fundamental truths at the heart of the human condition.

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2006
The Echo Maker – Richard Powers

On a winter night on a remote road in Nebraska, Mark Schluter’s truck turns over in a near fatal accident. His sister, Karin, returns reluctantly to their home town to look after him. But when he finally awakes from his coma, Mark believes that Karin – who looks, acts and sounds just like his sister – is really an identical imposter. Shattered by her brother’s refusal to recognise her, Karin contacts Dr Gerald Weber, famous for his case studies describing the infinitely bizarre worlds of brain disorder. But what Weber discovers in Mark begins to undermine even his own sense of self. Meanwhile Mark, armed only with a note left by an anonymous witness, attempts to learn what happened on the night of his accident. The truth of that evening will change the lives of all three beyond recognition.

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2005
Europe Central – William T. Vollmann

In this magnificent work of fiction, William T. Vollmann turns his trenchant eye to the authoritarian cultures of Germany and the USSR in the twentieth century. Assembling a composite portrait of these two warring leviathans and the terrible age they defined, the narrative intertwines experiences both real and fictional?a young German who joins the SS to expose its crimes, two generals who collaborate with the enemy for different reasons, the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich laboring under Stalinist oppression. Through these and other lives, Vollmann offers a daring and mesmerizing perspective on human actions during wartime.

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2004
The News from Paraguay – Lily Tuck

The year is 1854. In Paris, Francisco Solano – the future dictator of Paraguay – begins his courtship of the young, beautiful Irish courtesan Ella Lynch with a poncho, a Paraguayan band, and ahorse named Mathilde. Ella follows Franco to Asuncion and reigns there as his mistress. Isolated and estranged in this new world, she embraces her lover’s ill – fated imperial dream – one fueled by a heedless arrogance that will devastate all of Paraguay. With the urgency of the narrative, rich and intimate detail, and a wealth of skillfully layered characters, The News from Paraguay recalls the epic novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa.

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2003
The Great Fire – Shirley Hazzard

The Great Fire is Shirley Hazzard’s first novel since The Transit of Venus, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1981. The conflagration of her title is the Second World War. In war – torn Asia and stricken Europe, men and women, still young but veterans of harsh experience, must reinvent their lives and expectations, and learn, from their past, to dream again. Some will fulfill their destinies, others will falter. At the centre of the story, a brave and brilliant soldier finds that survival and worldly achievement are not enough. His counterpart, a young girl living in Occupied Japan and tending her dying brother, falls in love, and in the process discovers herself. In the looming shadow of world enmities resumed, and of Asia’s coming centrality in world affairs, a man and a woman seek to recover self – reliance, balance, and tenderness, struggling to reclaim their humanity.

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2002
Three Junes – Julia Glass

In this captivating debut novel, Julia Glass depicts the life and loves of the McLeod family during three crucial summers spanning a decade. Paul McLeod, patriarch of a Scottish family and a retired newspaper editor and proprietor, is on a package tour of Greece after the death of his wife. The story of his departure from the family home in Scotland and late gesture towards some sort of freedom gives way to his eldest son’s life (Fenno). Fenno protects his heart by putting himself under emotional quarantine throughout his life as a young gay man in Manhattan. When he returns home for his father’s funeral, this emotional isolation cannot be sustained when he is confronted by a choice that puts him at the centre of his family and its future. Three Junes is a novel about how we live and how family ties (those that we make as well as those that we are born into) can offer redemption and joy.

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2001
The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen

After fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity, and their children have long since fled for the catastrophes of their own lives. As Alfred’s condition worsens and the Lamberts are forced to face their secrets and failures, Enid sets her heart on one last family Christmas. Bringing the old world of civic virtue and sexual inhibition into violent collision with the era of hands – off parenting, do – it – yourself mental healthcare and globalised greed, ‘The Corrections’ confirms Jonathan Franzen as one of the most brilliant interpreters of the American soul.

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2000
In America – Susan Sontag

In America is a kaleidoscopic portrait of America on the cusp of modernity. As she did in her enormously popular novel “The Volcano Lover,” Susan Sontag casts a story located in the past in a fresh, provocative light to create a fictional world full of contemporary resonance. In 1876 a group of Poles led by Maryna Zalezowska, Poland’s greatest actress, emigrate to the United States and travel to California to found a “utopian commune.” When the commune fails, Maryna stays, learns English, and – as Marina Zalenska – forges a new, even more triumphant career on the American stage, becoming a diva on par with Sara Bernhardt. “In America “is about many things: a woman’s search for self – transformation; the fate of idealism; a life in the theater; the many varieties of love; and, not least of all, stories and storytelling itself. Operatic in the scope and intensity of the emotions it depicts, richly detailed and visionary in its account of America, and peopled with unforgettable characters.

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1999
Waiting – Ha Jin

For more than seventeen years, Lin Kong, a devoted and ambitious doctor, has been in love with an educated, clever, modern woman, Manna Wu. But back in his traditional home village lives the humble, loyal wife his family chose for him years ago. Every summer, he returns to ask her for a divorce and every summer his compliant wife agrees but then backs out. This time, after eighteen years’ waiting, Lin promises it will be different.

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1998
Charming Billy – Alice McDermott

Billy Lynch’s family and friends have gathered to comfort his widow, and to pay their respects to one of the last great romantics. As they trade tales of his famous humor, immense charm, and consuming sorrow, a complex portrait emerges of an enigmatic man, a loyal friend, a beloved husband, an incurable alcoholic.

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1997
Cold Mountain – Charles Frazier

A soldier wounded in the Civil War, Inman turns his back on the carnage of the battlefield and begins the treacherous journey home to Cold Mountain, and to Ada, the woman he loved before the war began. As Inman attempts to make his way across the mountains, through the devastated landscape of a soon – to – be – defeated South, Ada struggles to make a living from the land her once – wealthy father left when he died. Neither knows if the other is still alive.

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1996
Ship Fever and Other Stories – Andrea Barrett

The elegant short fictions gathered hereabout the love of science and the science of love are often set against the backdrop of the nineteenth century. Interweaving historical and fictional characters, they encompass both past and present as they negotiate the complex territory of ambition, failure, achievement, and shattered dreams. In “Ship Fever,” the title novella, a young Canadian doctor finds himself at the center of one of history’s most tragic epidemics. In “The English Pupil,” Linnaeus, in old age, watches as the world he organized within his head slowly drifts beyond his reach. And in “The Littoral Zone,” two marine biologists wonder whether their life – altering affair finally was worth it. In the tradition of Alice Munro and William Trevor, these exquisitely rendered fictions encompass whole lives in a brief space.

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1995
Sabbath’s Theater – Philip Roth

Once a scandalously inventive puppeteer, Micky Sabbath at sixty – four is still defiantly antagonistic and exceedingly libidinous. But after the death of his long – time mistress – an erotic free spirit whose adulterous daring exceeds even his own – Sabbath embarks on a turbulent journey into his past. Bereft and grieving, besieged by the ghosts of those who loved and hated him most, he contrives a succession of farcical disasters that take him to the brink of madness and extinction.

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1994
A Frolic of His Own – William Gaddis

A Frolic of His Own is a masterful work that mocks the folly of a litigious society. The story centers around Oscar Crease, the grandson of a Confederate soldier who avoided a deadly battle by invoking a legal clause that allowed him to hire a substitute and who later became a Supreme Court judge. Oscar writes a play about his grandfather that goes unproduced yet appears as the story behind a big – budget Hollywood film. Oscar sues and is tossed into the vortex of litigation. Meanwhile, almost 20 other lawsuits of varying frivolity swirl about, adding to this satirical and philosophical treat.

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1993
The Shipping News – Annie Proulx

Quoyle is a hapless, hopeless hack journalist living and working in New York. When his no – good wife is killed in a spectacular road accident, Quoyle heads for the land of his forefathers – the remotest corner of far – flung Newfoundland. With ‘the aunt’ and his delinquent daughters – Bunny and Sunshine – in tow, Quoyle finds himself part of an unfolding, exhilarating Atlantic drama. ‘The Shipping News’ is an irresistible comedy of human life and possibility.

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1992
All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy

One of the most important pieces of American writing of our time’ Stephen Amidon, Sunday Times John Grady Cole is the last bewildered survivor of long generations of Texas ranchers. Finding himself cut off from the only life he has ever wanted, he sets out for Mexico with his friend Lacey Rawlins. Befriending a third boy on the way, they find a country beyond their imagining: barren and beautiful, rugged yet cruelly civilized; a place where dreams are paid for in blood. All the Pretty Horses is an acknowledged masterpiece and a grand love story: a novel about childhood passing, along with innocence and a vanished American age. Steeped in the wisdom that comes only from loss, it is a magnificent parable of responsibility, revenge and survival.

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1991
Mating – Norman Rush

Set in the African republic of Botswana Norman Rush’s novel simultaneously explores the highest of intellectual high grounds and the most tortuous ravines of the erotic. tackles the geopolitics of poverty and the mystery of what men and women really want.

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1990
Middle Passage – Charles Johnson

In this savage parable of the African American experience, Rutherford Calhoun, a newly freed slave eking out a living in New Orleans in 1830, hops aboard a square rigger to evade the prim Boston schoolteacher who wants to marry him. But the Republic turns out to be a slave clipper bound for Africa. Calhoun, whose master educated him as a humanist, becomes the captain’s cabin boy, and though he hates himself for acting as a lackey, he’s able to help the African slaves recently taken aboard to stage a revolt before the rowdy, drunken crew can spring a mutiny.

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1989
Spartina – John Casey

A classic tale of a man, a boat, and a storm, Spartina is the lyrical and compassionate story of Dick Pierce, a commercial fisherman along the shores of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. A kind, sensitive, family man, he is also prone to irascible outbursts against the people he must work for, now that he can no longer make his living from the sea. Pierce’s one great passion, a fifty – foot fishing boat called “Spartina,” lies unfinished in his back yard. Determined to get the funds he needs to buy her engine, he finds himself taking a foolish, dangerous risk. But his real test comes when he must weather a storm at sea in order to keep his dream alive. Moving and poetic, Spartina is a masterly story of one man’s ongoing struggle to find his place in the world.

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1988
Paris Trout – Pete Dexter

A gothic tale of murder, injustice, and mayhem in a small Georgia town at the end of WW II. Paris Trout – a disheveled, miserly, eccentric, and amoral but nonetheless locally respectable hardware – store owner and loan shark – is the murderer; his victim is a 14 – year – old black girl named Rosie Sayers, whom he kills in a shooting spree brought on by a black boy’s failure to repay a loan. Much against the will of the comfortable Southern town, Trout’s trial is a fair one, and he’s sentenced to prison; but Trout is smart, wily, and resolute with a mad determination not to pay for something he doesn’t consider to have been a crime – with the result that he bribes and blackmails his way out of jail, returning to the town as a living irritant to its inhabitants’ consciences. But Trout grows madder: and, finally, urine – stained and utterly deluded. With a conviction that his estranged wife – a wonderful, stoical character by the name of Hannah Trout – is poisoning him, Trout holes up in the county courthouse during the town’s sesquicentennial celebration and, having shot his stroke – ridden mother in the head (“I end my connections with everything that come before”), opens fire on the rest of his enemies: his lawyer, Harry Seagraves; his wife’s divorce lawyer (“the youngest Eagle Scout in the history of the state”), and other local noteworthies and respectables. Once again, Dexter shows a mesmerizing mastery of character development, pace and tone; Cotton Point, Ga., lives and breathes, and Paris Trout menaces us and he menaces it. The larger message – that racism is a form of madness that overspills its boundaries – is murky; but this is nonetheless a fascinating read.

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1987
Paco’s Story – Larry Heinemann

Paco Sullivan is the only man in Alpha Company to survive a cataclysmic Viet Cong attack on Fire Base Harriette in Vietnam. Everyone else is annihilated. When a medic finally rescues Paco almost two days later, he is waiting to die, flies and maggots covering his burnt, shattered body. He winds up back in the US with his legs full of pins, daily rations of Librium and Valium, and no sense of what to do next. One evening, on the tail of a rainstorm, he limps off the bus and into the small town of Boone, determined to find a real job and a real bed–but no matter how hard he works, nothing muffles the anguish in his mind and body. Brilliantly and vividly written, Paco’s Story plunges you into the violence and casual cruelty of the Vietnam War, and the ghostly aftermath that often dealt the harshest blows.

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1986
World’s Fair – E.L. Doctorow

The astonishing novel of a young boy’s life in the New York City of the 1930s, a stunning recreation of the sights, sounds, aromas and emotions of a time when the streets were safe, families stuck together through thick and thin, and all the promises of a generation culminate in a single great World’s Fair…

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1985
White Noise – Don DeLillo

Jack Gladney is the creator and chairman of Hitler studies at the College – on – the – Hill. This is the story of his absurd life; a life that is going well enough, until a chemical spill from a rail car releases an ‘Airborne Toxic Event’ and Jack is forced to confront his biggest fear – his own mortality. White Noise is an effortless combination of social satire and metaphysical dilemma in which DeLillo exposes our rampant consumerism, media saturation and novelty intellectualism. It captures the particular strangeness of life lived when the fear of death cannot be denied, repressed or obscured and ponders the role of the family in a time when the very meaning of our existence is under threat.

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1984
Victory Over Japan: A Book of Stories – Ellen Gilchrist

Fourteen stories focus on a group of southern women who seek happiness and a sense of worth in bars, marriages, divorces, art, drug use, lovers’ arms, and earthquakes.

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1983*
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty – Eudora Welty

Including the earlier collections A Curtain of Green, The Wide Net, The Golden Apples, and The Bride of the Innisfallen, as well as previously uncollected ones, these forty – one stories demonstrate Eudora Welty’s talent for writing from diverse points – of – view with “vision that is sweet by nature, always humanizing, uncannily objective, but never angry” (Washington Post).

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The Color Purple – Alice Walker

Set in the deep American south between the wars, this is the classic tale of Celie, a young poor black girl. Raped repeatedly by her father, she loses two children and then is married off to a man who treats her no better than a slave. She is separated from her sister Nettie and dreams of becoming like the glamorous Shug Avery, a singer and rebellious black woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the support of women that enables her to leave the past behind and begin a new life.

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1982*
So Long, See You Tomorrow – William Maxwell

In rural Illinois, two tenant farmers share much, finally too much, until jealously leads to murder and suicide. A tenuous friendship between lonely teenagers – the narrator, whose mother has died young, and Cletus Smith, the troubled witness to his parent’s misery – is shattered. After the murder and upheavals that follow, the boys never speak again. Fifty years on, the narrator attempts a reconstruction of those devastating events and the atonement of a lifetime’s regret.

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Rabbit Is Rich – John Updike

It’s 1979 and Rabbit is no longer running. He’s walking, and beginning to get out of breath. That’s ok, though – it gives him the chance to enjoy the wealth that comes with middle age. It’s all in place: he’s Chief Sales Representative and co – owner of Springer motors; his wife, at home or in the club, is keeping trim; he wears good suits, and the cash is pouring in. So why is it that he finds it so hard to accept the way that things have turned out? And why, when he looks at his family, is he haunted by regrets about all those lives he’ll never live?

1981*
Collected Stories – John Cheever

These outstanding stories of American award – winning novelist, John Cheever, show the power and range of one of the finest short story writers of the century. Stories of love and squalor, set in a world in which momentary glimpses of brightness contend with time, social change, and the chaos of history.

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Plains Songs – Wright Morris

A novel of three generations of women on the Nebraska plains.

1980*
The World According to Garp – John Irving

This is the life and times of T. S. Garp, the bastard son of Jenny Fields – a feminist leader ahead of her times. It is also the life and death of a famous mother and her almost – famous son; theirs is a world of sexual extremes – even of sexual assassinations. It is a novel rich with ‘lunacy and sorrow’; yet the dark, violent events of the story do not undermine a comedy both ribald and robust. It provides almost cheerful, even hilarious evidence of its famous last line: “In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.”

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Sophie’s Choice – William Styron

In this extraordinary novel, Stingo, an inexperienced twenty – two year old Southerner, takes us back to the summer of 1947 and a boarding house in a leafy Brooklyn suburb. There, he meets Nathan, a fiery Jewish intellectual; and Sophie, a beautiful and fragile Polish Catholic. Stingo is drawn into the heart of their passionate and destructive relationship as witness, confidant and supplicant. Ultimately, he arrives at the dark core of Sophie’s past: her memories of pre-war Poland, the concentration camp and the essence of her terrible secret: her choice.

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1979
Going After Cacciato – Tim O’Brien

Going After Cacciato captures the peculiar mixture of horror and hallucination that marked this strangest of wars. In a blend of reality and fantasy, this novel tells the story of a young soldier who one day lays down his rifle and sets off on a quixotic journey from the jungles of Indochina to the streets of Paris. In its memorable evocation of men both fleeing from and meeting the demands of battle, Going After Cacciato stands as much more than just a great war novel. Ultimately it’s about the forces of fear and heroism that do battle in the hearts of us all.

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1978
Blood Tie – Mary Lee Settle

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1977
The Spectator Bird – Wallace Earle Stegner

Joe Allston is a retired literary agent who is, in his own words, “just killing time until time gets around to killing me.” His parents and his only son are long dead, leaving him with neither ancestors nor descendants, tradition nor ties. His job, trafficking the talent of others, had not been his choice. He passes through life as a spectator. A postcard from a friend causes Allston to return to the journals of a trip he had taken years before, a journey to his mother’s birth – place where he’d sought a link with the past. The memories of that trip, both grotesque and poignant, move through layers of time and meaning, and reveal that Joe Allston isn’t quite spectator enough.

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1976
JR – William Gaddis

JR is a biting satire about the many ways in which capitalism twists the American spirit into something dangerous, yet pervasive and unassailable. At the center of the novel is a hilarious eleven year old J R who with boyish enthusiasm turns a few basic lessons in capitalist principles, coupled with a young boy s lack of conscience, into a massive and exploitative paper empire. The result is one of the funniest and most disturbing stories ever told about the corruption of the American dream.

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1975
The Hair of Harold Roux – Thomas Williams

A dazzlingly crafted novel – within – a – novel hailed as a masterpiece, it deserves a new generation of readers. In The Hair of Harold Roux, we are introduced to Aaron Benham: college professor, writer, husband, and father. Aaron – when he can focus – is at work on a novel, The Hair of Harold Roux, a thinly disguised autobiographical account of his college days. In Aaron’s novel, his alter ego, Allard Benson, courts a young woman, despite the efforts of his rival, the earnest and balding Harold Roux – a GI recently returned from World War II with an unfortunate hairpiece. What unfolds through Aaron’s mind, his past and present, and his nested narratives is a fascinating exploration of sex and friendship, responsibility and regret, youth and middle age, and the essential fictions that see us through.

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Dog Soldiers – Robert Stone

In Saigon during the waning days of the Vietnam War, a small – time journalist named John Converse thinks he’ll find action – and profit – by getting involved in a big – time drug deal. But back in the States, things go horribly wrong for him. Dog Soldiers perfectly captures the underground mood of America in the 1970s, when amateur drug dealers and hippies encountered profiteering cops and professional killers – and the price of survival was dangerously high.ENDDESCRIPTION

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1974
A Crown of Feathers – Isaac Bashevis Singer

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Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon

Tyrone Slothrop, a GI in London in 1944, has a big problem. Whenever he gets an erection, a Blitz bomb hits. Slothrop gets excited, and then (as Thomas Pynchon puts it in his sinister, insinuatingly sibilant opening sentence), “a screaming comes across the sky,” heralding an angel of death, a V-2 rocket. The novel’s title, “Gravity’s Rainbow”, refers to the rocket’s vapor arc, a cruel dark parody of what God sent Noah to symbolize his promise never to destroy humanity again. Soon Tyrone is on the run from legions of bizarre enemies through the phantasmagoric horrors of Germany. Gravity’s Rainbow, however, doesn’t follow such a standard plot; one must have faith that each manic episode is connected with the great plot to blow up the world with the ultimate rocket. There is not one story, but a proliferation of characters (Pirate Prentice, Teddy Bloat, Tantivy Mucker – Maffick, Saure Bummer, and more) and events that tantalize the reader with suggestions of vast patterns only just past our comprehension. Gravity’s Rainbow is a blizzard of references to science, history, high culture, and the lowest of jokes.

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1973
Augustus – John Edward Williams

A brilliant and beautifully written novel in the tradition of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, Augustus is a sweeping narrative that brings vividly to life a compelling cast of historical figures through their letters, dispatches, and memoirs. A mere eighteen years of age when his uncle, Julius Caesar, is murdered, Octavius Caesar prematurely inherits rule of the Roman Republic. Surrounded by men who are jockeying for power – Cicero, Brutus, Cassius, and Mark Antony – young Octavius must work against the powerful Roman political machinations to claim his destiny as first Roman emperor. Sprung from meticulous research and the pen of a true poet, Augustus tells the story of one man’s dream to liberate a corrupt Rome from the fancy of the capriciously crooked and the wildly wealthy.

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Chimera – John Barth

In Chimera John Barth injects his signature wit into the tales of Scheherezade of the Thousand and One Nights, Perseus, the slayer of Medusa, and Bellerophon, who tamed the winged horse Pegasus. In a book that the Washington Post called “stylishly maned, tragically songful, and serpentinely elegant”, Barth retells these tales from varying perspectives, examining the myths’ relationship to reality and their resonance with the contemporary world.

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1972
Complete Stories – Flannery O’Connor

This is the complete collection of stories from one of the most original and powerful American writers of the twentieth – century. Including “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge”, this collection also contains several stories only available in this volume.ENDDESCRIPTION

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1971
Mr Sammler’s Planet – Saul Bellow

Mr. Artur Sammler, Holocaust survivor, intellectual, and occasional lecturer at Columbia University in 1960s New York City, is a “registrar of madness”, a refined and civilized being caught among people crazy with the promises of the future (moon landings and endless possibilities). His Cyclopean gaze reflects on the degradations of city life while looking deep into the sufferings of the human soul. “Sorry for all and sore at heart”, he observes how greater luxury and leisure have only led to more human suffering. To Mr. Sammler – who by the end of this ferociously unsentimental novel has found the compassionate consciousness necessary to bridge the gap between himself and his fellow beings – a good life is one in which a person does what is “required of him”. To know and to meet the “terms of the contract” was as true a life as one could live.

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1970
Them – Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates’s Wonderland Quartet comprises four remarkable novels that explore social class in America and the inner lives of young Americans. As powerful and relevant today as it on its initial publication, “them “chronicles the tumultuous lives of a family living on the edge of ruin in the Detroit slums, from the 1930s to the 1967 race riots. Oates traces the aspirations and struggles of Loretta Wendall, a dreamy young mother who is filled with regret by the age of sixteen, and the subsequent destinies of her children, Maureen and Jules, who must fight to survive in a world of violence and danger. Them is an enthralling novel about love, class, race, and the inhumanity of urban life.

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1969
Steps – Jerzy Kosinski

From the esteemed author of The Painted Bird and Being There comes this award – winning novel about one man’s sexual and sensual experiences, the fabric from which the shape of his life has been woven. Distinctions are eroded between oppressor and oppressed, perpetrator and victim, narcissism and anonymity.

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1968
The Eighth Day – Thornton Wilder

In 1962 and 1963, Thornton Wilder spent twenty months in hibernation, away from family and friends, in the Rio Grande border town of Douglas, Arizona. While there, he launched “The Eighth Day,” a tale set in a mining town in southern Illinois about two families blasted apart by the apparent murder of one father by the other. The miraculous escape of the accused killer, John Ashley, on the eve of his execution and his flight to freedom triggers a powerful story tracing the fate of his and the victim’s wife and children. At once a murder mystery and a philosophical story, “The Eighth Day” is a work of classic stature that has been hailed as a great American epic.

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1967
The Fixer – Bernard Malamud

The Fixer is Bernard Malamud’s best – known and most acclaimed novel – one that makes manifest his roots in Russian fiction, especially that of Isaac Babel. Set in Kiev in 1911 during a period of heightened anti – Semitism, the novel tells the story of Yakov Bok, a Jewish handyman blamed for the brutal murder of a young Russian boy. Bok leaves his village to try his luck in Kiev, and after denying his Jewish identity, finds himself working for a member of the anti – Semitic Black Hundreds Society. When the boy is found nearly drained of blood in a cave, the Black Hundreds accuse the Jews of ritual murder. Arrested and imprisoned, Bok refuses to confess to a crime that he did not commit.

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1966
The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter – Katherine Anne Porter

Porter’s reputation as one of americanca’s most distinguished writers rests chiefly on her superb short stories. This volume includes the collections Flowering Judas; Pale Horse, Pale Rider; and The Leaning Tower as well as four stories not available elsewhere in book form.

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1965
Herzog – Saul Bellow

A masterful twist on the epistolary novel, Saul Bellow’s Herzog is part confessional, part exorcism, and a wholly unique achievement in postmodern fiction. Is Moses Herzog losing his mind? His formidable wife Madeleine has left him for his best friend, and Herzog is left alone with his whirling thoughts – yet he still sees himself as a survivor, raging against private disasters and the myriad catastrophes of the modern age. In a crumbling house which he shares with rats, his head buzzing with ideas, he writes frantic, unsent letters to friends and enemies, colleagues and famous people, the living and the dead, revealing the spectacular workings of his labyrinthine mind and the innermost secrets of his troubled heart.

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1964
The Centaur – John Updike

In a small Pennsylvania town in the late 1940s, schoolteacher George Caldwell yearns to find some meaning in his life. Alone with his teenage son for three days in a blizzard, Caldwell sees his son grow and change as he himself begins to lose touch with his life. Interwoven with the myth of Chiron, the noblest centaur, and his relationship to the Titan Prometheus, The Centaur is one of Updike’s most brilliant novels.

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1963
Morte D’Urban – J. F. Powers

The hero of J.F. Powers’s comic masterpiece is Father Urban, a man of the cloth who is also a man of the world. Charming, with an expansive vision of the spiritual life and a high tolerance for moral ambiguity, Urban enjoys a national reputation as a speaker on the religious circuit and has big plans for the future. But then the provincial head of his dowdy religious order banishes him to a retreat house in the Minnesota hinterlands. Father Urban soon bounces back, carrying God’s word with undaunted enthusiasm through the golf courses, fishing lodges, and backyard barbecues of his new turf. Yet even as he triumphs his tribulations mount, and in the end his greatest success proves a setback from which he cannot recover. First published in 1962, ” Morte D’Urban” has been praised by writers as various as Gore Vidal, William Gass, Mary Gordon, and Philip Roth. This beautifully observed, often hilarious tale of a most unlikely Knight of Faith is among the finest achievements of an author whose singular vision assures him a permanent place in American literature.

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1962
The Moviegoer – Walker Percy

The Moviegoer is Binx Bolling, a young New Orleans stockbroker who surveys the world with the detached gaze of a Bourbon Street dandy even as he yearns for a spiritual redemption he cannot bring himself to believe in. On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, he occupies himself dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, which provide him with the “treasurable moments” absent from his real life. But one fateful Mardi Gras, Binx embarks on a hare – brained quest that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin Kate, and sends him reeling through the chaos of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic.

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1961
The Waters of Kronos – Conrad Richter

From the time of its first publication in 1960, Conrad Richter’s The Waters of Kronos sparked lively debate about the extent to which its story of a belated return to childhood scenes mirrored key events of Richter’s own life. As was well known at the time, Richter had spent several years in the Southwest, where he collected the material for his first successful book, Early Americans and Other Stories, but by 1933, he had returned to live in his hometown, Pine Grove, Pennsylvania.John Donner, the main protagonist in The Waters of Kronos, traces a similar route from west to east, although he finds that his family home and native town have been submerged under the deep waters of a lake formed by the construction of a hydroelectric dam. As Richter narrates his alter ego’s efforts to salvage his past, he moves beyond “semi – autobiography” to offer what are widely recognized as his most haunting reflections upon the power of family history, the fragility of human memory, and art’s role in structuring the communal ethos.

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1960
Goodbye, Columbus – Philip Roth

Philip Roth’s award – winning first book instantly established its author’s reputation as a writer of explosive wit, merciless insight and a fierce compassion for even the most self – deluding of his characters. Goodbye, Columbus is the story of Neil Klugman and pretty, spirited Brenda Patimkin, he of poor Newark, she of suburban Short Hills, who meet one summer break and dive into an affair that is as much about social class and suspicion as it is about love. The novella is accompanied by five short stories that range in tone from the iconoclastic to the astonishingly tender.

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1959
The Magic Barrel – Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud’s first book of short stories, The Magic Barrel has been recognized as a classic from the time it was published in 1959. The stories are set in New York and in Italy (where Malamud’s alter ego, the struggleing New York Jewish Painter Arthur Fidelman, roams amid the ruins of old Europe in search of his artistic patrimony); they tell of egg candlers and shoemakers, matchmakers, and rabbis, in a voice that blends vigorous urban realism, Yiddish idiom, and a dash of artistic magic. The Magic Barrel is a book about New York and about the immigrant experience, and it is high point in the modern American short story. Few books of any kind have managed to depict struggle and frustration and heartbreak with such delight, or such artistry.

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1958
The Wapshot Chronicle – John Cheever

Based in part on Cheever’s adolescence in New England, the novel follows the destinies of the impecunious and wildly eccentric Wapshots of St. Botolphs, a quintessential Massachusetts fishing village. Here are the stories of Captain Leander Wapshot, venerable sea dog and would – be suicide; of his licentious older son, Moses; and of Moses’ adoring and errant younger brother, Coverly. Tragic and funny, ribald and splendidly picaresque, “The Wapshot Chronicle” is a family narrative in the tradition of Trollope, Dickens, and Henry James.

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1956
Ten North Frederick – John O’Hara

Joe Chapin led a storybook life. A successful small-town lawyer with a beautiful wife, two over-achieving children, and aspirations to be president, he seemed to have it all. But as his daughter looks back on his life, a different man emerges: one in conflict with his ambitious and shrewish wife, terrified that the misdeeds of his children will dash his political dreams, and in love with a model half his age. With black wit and penetrating insight, Ten North Frederick is a brilliant portrait of the personal and political hypocrisy of mid-century America.

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1957
The Field of Vision – Wright Morris

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1955
A Fable – William Faulkner

An allegorical story of World War I, set in the trenches in France and dealing ostensibly with a mutiny in a French regiment, it was originally considered a sharp departure for Faulkner. Recently it has come to be recognized as one of his major works and an essential part of the Faulkner ‘oeuvre’. Faulkner himself fought in the war, and his descriptions of it “rise to magnificence,” according to The New York Times, and include, in Malcolm Cowley’s words, “some of the most powerful scenes he ever conceived.”

1954
The Adventures of Augie March – Saul Bellow

As soon as it first appeared in 1953, this gem by the great Saul Bellow was hailed as an American classic. Bold, expansive, and keenly humorous, “The Adventures of Augie March” blends street language with literary elegance to tell the story of a poor Chicago boy growing up during the Great Depression. A “born recruit,” Augie makes himself available for hire by plungers, schemers, risk takers, and operators, compiling a record of choices that is – to say the least – eccentric.

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1953
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

Published in 1952 when American society was in the cusp of immense change, the powerfully depicted adventures of Ellison’s invisible man – from his expulsion from a Southern college to a terrifying Harlem race riot – go far beyond the story of one individual. As John Callahan says, ‘In an extraordinary imaginative leap, he hit upon a single word for the different yet shared condition of African Americans, Americans, and, for that matter, the human individual in the twentieth century and beyond.’

1952
From Here to Eternity – James Jones

Diamond Head, Hawaii, 1941. Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt is a champion welterweight and a fine bugler. But when he refuses to join the company’s boxing team, he gets “the treatment” that may break him or kill him. First Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden knows how to soldier better than almost anyone, yet he’s risking his career to have an affair with the commanding officer’s wife. Both Warden and Prewitt are bound by a common bond: the Army is their heart and blood . . .and, possibly, their death. In this magnificent but brutal classic of a soldier’s life, James Jones portrays the courage, violence and passions of men and women who live by unspoken codes and with unutterable despair. . .in the most important American novel to come out of World War II, a masterpiece that captures as no ther the honor and savagery of men.

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1951
Collected Stories – William Faulkner

In this extraordinary collection, Faulkner captures the bitter tensions of America’s Deep South. Beneath an unrelenting sun, the themes of pride, intense passion, the overbearing influence of women and the spectres of the past are played out in stories of memorable power. Faulkner’s muscular, vivid prose lays bare the anguish of a land riven by violence and racial conflict, and the pathos, dignity and troubled history of its people

1950
The Man with the Golden Arm – Nelson Algren

The Man With the Golden Arm tells the story of Frankie Machine, the golden arm dealer at a back street Chicago gambling den. Frankie reckons he’s a tough guy in the Chicago underworld but finds that he’s not tough enough to kick his heroin addiction. With consummate skill and a finely – tuned ear for the authentic dialogue of the backstreets, Algren lays bare the tragedy and humour of Frankie’s world.

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