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Five notes about last night's National Book Awards.


1. There is nothing to say about Andy Borowitz, host. I can’t remember a single one of his jokes. There was no indication he had read any of the nominated books, or any book at all. 

2. I didn’t talk to anybody leading up to the awards who thought that Adam Johnson would win the fiction award; after he won, I didn’t talk to anybody who thought he should’ve won it. Even Johnson seemed to agree—his was the only forgettable speech of the night.

3. Don DeLillo is a weirdo. 

4. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s victory was unsurprising and completely deserving, but also a victory for nonfiction as a genre. Traditionally, the award for nonfiction has gone to Big Tomes That Explain The World In A Relatively Conventional Way, but Between the World and Me defies category. Coates’s victory was a tribute to many things, including the breadth of nonfiction.

5. The speeches given by Coates and Young People’s Literature Award-winner Neal Shusterman about the inspiration for their books—the murder of a friend by police and a son’s struggle with schizophrenia, respectively—were both poignant and implicitly political. They were also reminders of the permeable boundaries between literature and life. The Oscars get political, but there’s often a certain level of detachment; the National Book Awards were more direct because writers are human beings and books are a direct way to convey ideas.