2013 National Book Awards

cover art: Good Lord Birdcover art: The Unwindingcover art: The Thing About Luckcover art: Incarnadine

If you ask me, awarding prizes for works of art--whether they be books, movies or single malt scotches--is pretty silly, if not quixotic. I mean, how can we pretend to objectively declare something as complex as a novel or nuanced as a great pop song to be "better" than another when most of us have our hands full deciding whether M&Ms or Reese's Pieces would go better with our Double Dutch Chocolate frozen yogurt?

I'm convinced these awards serve some Darwinian function. They tickle some mean little nub in our vestigial reptilian brains that demands winners and losers for everything from beauty pageants and presidential debates to thermonuclear wars. When it comes to the National Book Awards, I find it helpful to think of the process as cultural--rather than natural-- selection. Basically, we're choosing the writer with the most colorful plumage to ensure the continued survival of the species.

Fiction finalists:
The Flamethrowers / Rachel Kushner
The Lowland / Jhumpa Lahiri
Bleeding Edge / Thomas Pynchon
Tenth of December / George Saunders

Fiction winner: The Good Lord Bird / James McBride

Nonfiction finalists:
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin / Jill Lepore
Hitler's Furies / Wendy Lower
The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 / Alan Taylor
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief / Lawrence Wright

Nonfiction winner: The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America / George Packer

Young People's Literature finalists:
The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp / Kathi Appelt
Far Far Away / Tom McNeal
Picture Me Gone / Meg Rosoff
Boxers & Saints / Gene Luen Yang

Young People's Literature winner: The Thing About Luck / Cynthia Kadohata

Poetry finalists:
Metaphysical Dog / Frank Bidart
Stay, Illusion / Lucie Brock-Broido
The Big Smoke / Adrian Matejka
Black Aperture / Matt Rasmussen

Poetry winner: Incarnadine / Mary Szybist