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L.A. Times Book Prize Finalists Include Michelle Obama, Tara Westover

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is the largest literary gathering in the country, attracting over 150,000 people to a massive celebration of culture. Categories include First Fiction, Current Interest, Biography, Fiction, Poetry, Graphic Novel, Thriller, History, Science & Technology, and Young Adult Literature. This year, the nominations are as exciting as they are nerve-wracking—not all of them can win! Here’s the conundrum: they all deserve the prize. Don’t believe it? Let’s take a look at some of our most distinguished nominees.

 

Michelle Obama with book 'Becoming'

Image Via The Chicago Tribune

 

Michelle Obama’s Becoming has already become a staggering success. Penguin Random House paid over $65 million for the rights to Michelle and Barack’s autobiographies, making it one of the most expensive book deals of all time. This figure is also unprecedented among other presidential figures: Bill Clinton earned an advance of $15 million for his own autobiography, which, as you might have noticed, is less than half of that sixty-five. Critics have called Barack Obama “that rare politician who can actually write,” and The New York Times reviewed Dreams From My Father as a literary masterpiece rather than another ghostwritten memoir. But Michelle isn’t doing so bad—Becoming sold a record-breaking two million copies in only fifteen days, and it went on to become the best-selling book of 2018. (And yes, Barack put his wife’s book on his famous reading list.)

Other titles in the category include Michael Lewis’ incisive The Fifth Risk, which critically examines the Trump administration. Given increased visibility regarding issues of immigration, human rights, and the possible border wall, Francisco Cantú’s The Line Becomes a River is also a timely inclusion.

 

Michael Lewis' 'The Fifth Risk'

Image Via The International Anthony Burgess Foundation

 

Though Becoming is a memoir, judges have classified it within the Current Interest category—which means, fortunately, that it isn’t competing against Tara Westover’s Educated, a memoir of triumph, persistence, fanaticism, and violence that earned the world’s attention in 2018. USA Today called it the best memoir in years, and with good reason: it’s been a finalist for just about everything. (Of course, it was also on Barack Obama’s reading list.) The memoir chronicles Tara Westover’s journey from beneath Buck’s Peak, the mountain that looms in her childhood as enormous as the influence of her father’s survivalist views. By the age of seventeen, Westover had never seen a doctor nor set foot in a classroom—in fact, until her teenage years, there was no record of her birth at all. Westover has since received a PhD from Cambridge. While there are other books in this category, this is certainly a contender.

 

Tara Westover with memoir, 'Educated'

Image Via Bustle

 

Other titles in the running for various L.A. Times prizes carry serious weight—Elizabeth Acevedo’s YA novel The Poet X is up for a prize after having won the National Book Award. Acevedo’s diverse novel explores poetry as means for personal freedom in an immigrant community with traditional (read: sexist) values. Particularly interesting nominations in other categories include Science & Technology’s Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy, a notable book in the wake of the opioid epidemic.

 

Elizabeth Acevedo with novel, 'The Poet X'

Image Via Medium

 

Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage: A Novel, a nomination for the Fiction category, was among Oprah’s 2018 book club picks and also featured on Barack Obama’s 2018 reading list. Of course, it has some fierce competition: Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers, an evocative depiction of the AIDS crisis, is also in the running. Renowned comedian Amy Poehler is currently optioning the novel for a TV adaptation—if that’s not good enough, it’s also one of the NYT‘s top ten books for 2018.

 

'An American Marriage' by Tayari Jones and 'The Great Believers' by Rebecca Makkai

Image Via Entertainment Weekly

 

There are too many excellent titles to list: with ten categories and five nominees in each, you could finish reading one by the time we described them all. Take a look at the 2019 finalists, and decide which one would be a winner on your bookshelf.

 

Featured Image Via The L.A. Times