It's quite possible that an American will win the Man Booker Prize for the first time tonight! The Booker is a British prize and historically has been awarded to UK authors, but it has been opened up to books from other nationalities. They must be originally written in English and published in the United Kingdom. The buzz is Paul Beatty's The Sellout, a satirical look at race relations in America, or Ottessa Moshfegh's Eileen, a psychological crime novel about a disturbed young woman manipulated to commit a crime, are serious contenders. I haven't read either, but Eileen sounds like a perfect suspenseful story to read around Halloween.
What have I been reading? Well, I almost never read nonfiction, but I have just read two! The first was Hillbilly elegy : a memoir of a family and culture in crisis by J.D. Vance. It's a really interesting, thought-provoking memoir of Vance's early life in Kentucky and then Middletown, Ohio. Growing up in a chaotic, violent world, Vance found redemption in the unwavering faith and love of his grandparents and then the Marines. Ultimately, he attends Yale Law school and moves solidly into the middle class. It sounds like a personal story, and it is, but it is more. Vance examines the vanishing Scots-Irish culture he grew up in and their migration north for jobs which ultimately disappear. This is the book to read if you want to examine more fully the anger of poor small-town Americans who feel they have been left behind.
The second book is haunting me. Annie's Ghosts: a journey into a family secret by Steve Luxenberg is about how corrosive a secret can become. Very near the death of his mother, Luxenberg found out she had a sister. His mother had always told everyone she was an only child, but she had a disabled sister who entered Eloise, a psychiatric hospital in Detroit, in 1940 at age 21. Living there for over thirty years, she died alone and was buried in an unmarked grave. Steve could not reconcile these facts with the mother he knew, so he used his considerable journalistic, and persuasive, skills to find out what really happened to his Aunt. One of the most disturbing facets is it is not very clear whether or not his Aunt actually had a mental illness. This title was a Great Michigan Read selection a few years ago and they had record-breaking attendance for the author's talks. The Michigan Humanities Council found the book struck a chord with Michiganders. Many people who attended had a relative who was a patient or an employee at Eloise and they wanted to talk about it.
Lest I leave you with only heavy books, I'm also listening to Closed casket : A New Hercule Poirot Mystery by Sophie Hannah. Authorized by the estate of Agatha Christie, Hannah does an excellent job of reprising Poirot and Christie's other characters. Great fun!