by Elie Wiesel, 1972
translated from the French by Marion Wiesel
This is one of the most affecting pieces of literature I’ve ever read. Elie Wiesel was 15 in 1944 when the Nazis entered Hungary and he and his family were moved into concentration camps. Separated from his mother and sister, it was not long after that he and his father were moved to Auschwitz and Buchenwald, some of the most infamous concentration camps of the war. Wiesel’s treatise is, in a word, harrowing. His short, direct manner of writing (perhaps due in part to the translation) gives a stark portrait of some of the greatest evil known to mankind. Night is an exceedingly difficult book to read and, despite being barely more than 100 pages, was one that I found I could only consume in short bursts. However, it is one of the most necessary books that I have ever had the opportunity to encounter and it is imperative that we continue to read this story and hold this terror close to our hearts.
by Joby Warrick, 2015
One of the things committing to reading prize-winning books has done is force me to read books on subjects I would normally overlook. I would have never picked up the Wayward Children series because it’s fantasy, and I doubt I would have ever gotten around to reading Evicted, even though the subject matter does interest me. Black Flags is another book I would have never endeavored to read, were it not for its having won the Pulitzer Prize, but, in this case, I think I would have been just fine not having picked this one up. Call me an ignorant American, but I only have a certain amount of mental and emotional energy to spend on the world’s ills and ISIS is not close enough to me to make the cut. Don’t get me wrong – to say they’ve committed terrible acts would be an understatement, but I’m more worried about someone walking into the school where I work and shooting up the joint. That’s just the world I live in at the moment. (Is that privilege? Yes. Yes it is.)
by Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2015
Man, I really wanted to enjoy this book. There is a certain disappointment in picking up a much lauded book only to find yourself struggling through it every step of the way. In this case, I wasn’t necessarily disappointed in the book – I was disappointed in myself. I’m certain The Sympathizer contains a fair amount of genius within its pages, but, either because I did not have sufficient background knowledge of the Vietnam War, thus exposing my own ignorance, or because I could not follow the stream-of-consciousness narrative, calling into question my English Master’s degree, I clawed my way through every page. You guys…this book made me feel dumb.
by Uzodinma Iweala, 2005
Some books exist to give insight into another part of the world. Some books exist to give insight into another culture. Some books exist to give insight into another way of life. Beasts of No Nation exists for all three, but mostly it exists to tell the horrifying story of a young boy caught up in the middle of a war.
by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, 2012
I don’t remember where I ran across this book, but its title and subject matter immediately caught my eye. You see, I grew up at White Sands Missile Range, a place whose large territory encompasses the Trinity testing site. Nuclear weaponry is part of our specific narrative as New Mexicans and it’s as common to learn about this in history class as it is to learn about the presidents. I wouldn’t say nuclear science is a particular area of my interest, but the idea of the area’s history told in graphic form was something I hadn’t seen before and the WSMR school child in me just had to get her hands on it.
Based on Kim Barker’s memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016) is the story of a television journalist’s assignment as a war correspondent in Afghanistan. Kim (Tina Fey) is unhappy with her stagnant career, has a boyfriend who’s frequently traveling for his job, and has little excitement in her life. Kim and a group of her colleagues are asked if they’re willing to report out of Afghanistan, not because of their talents, but because they are single and childless. Immediately we know that this story is as much about Kim’s escape from being an undervalued employee to something of a media star. In some ways it’s a makeover story, but about personality instead of looks.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (Laura Hillenbrand, 2010) is the biography of Olympic distance runner and World War II prisoner of war survivor Louie Zamperini. It is both an enthralling action story and harrowing account of the strength of men, and a trove of history for people (like me) who have the luxury of not really knowing what happened during that dark time in our world. It is an utterly compelling book whose pages beg to be turned while being overwhelmingly heartbreaking. I could not put it down.