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British Book Awards 2019: Non-Fiction Narrative Book Of The Year

A photograph of the Non-Fiction Narrative of the Year shortlist - the books are stacked on top of each other on a wooden surface in front of a brick wall in the sunshine

An update is at the bottom of this post.

Tonight, at a large awards ceremony in London, the winners of the British Book Awards (‘Nibbies’) will be announced. A set of prizes that have been given out yearly since 1990, the Nibbies are the awards of The Bookseller magazine, which has itself been around since 1858. Called ‘the BAFTAs of the book trade’, the Nibbies are comprised of eight awards which are judged by eight different panels and the idea behind them is that they champion books that are ‘well written and brilliantly published’ – honouring both author and the publishing team. There are then a variety of awards for industry people, publishers, and book shops.

The categories for books are: Debut Book of the Year; Children’s Fiction Book of the Year; Children’s Illustrated & Non-Fiction Book of the Year (new for 2019); Fiction Book of the Year; Fiction Crime & Thriller Book of the Year; Non-Fiction Lifestyle Book of the Year; Non-Fiction Narrative Book of the Year; Audiobook of the Year. It’s a lot of categories but, as I noted when writing this, it ensures books are compared with others that share a subject, whilst not being too niche.

Philip Jones, editor of the magazine and chair of the judging panel, has said that the shortlists ‘showcase the breadth of talent available to publishers in the UK, after a year in which international writers… have shown that there is a real hunger for stories, well-told, that originate elsewhere but reflect back on us… today’s books sit at the intersection between culture and politics, and between entertainment and reality’.

As the awards are tonight I thought I’d look at the six books in an ‘at a glance’ fashion; I’ll be reviewing one or two in the weeks to come.

A photograph of Dolly Alderton's Everything I Know About Love

Everything I Know About Love is a memoir about Alderton’s teenage and early twenties years, told in a sort of essay fashion; it goes back and forth between various places and times, detailing Alderton’s experiences with drink, drugs, sex, and relationships both platonic and romantic, an open account of her growth as a person. Alderton is a journalist for The Sunday Times and a radio presenter; through reading her book you learn about her shorter periods of time in television and about her freelance career. The book is written in a casual, carefree, manner which suits the content, enables the humour to work very well, and means that the book is an easy read in a very good way. Speaking at the Curious Arts Festival last year, Paul Blezard, who interviewed Alderton, said the book is about ‘the honesty of growing up and learning from it’. (My post on this is here.)

A photograph of the book The Secret Barrister

The Secret Barrister by someone known only by the title of their book, this is a collection of stories of life inside the courtroom. It’s ‘both an account of the human cost of the criminal justice system and a guide to how we got into this mess’. Written in a jovial tone, it’s about the issues in the system and what needs to change; it’s won a couple of awards already. The author cites themselves as pretty average; it’s the everyday of someone who deals with things we don’t tend to consider everyday things.

A photograph of Ant Middleton's First Man In

First Man In by Ant Middleton is a memoir of Middleton’s various careers and what he has learned through them. The author is a former soldier, adventurer, and is currently the ‘Chief Instructor’ for Channel 4’s show, SAS: Who Dares Wins. (This year 25 people will go to the Andes; people eat, sleep, live together, whilst completing a tough course.) Middleton has been in the Special Forces. He spent time in the Special Boat Service, the Royal Marines, and the 9 Parachute Squadron Royal – the three are the ‘Holy Trinity’ of the Elite Forces.

A photograph of Christie Watson's The Language Of Kindness

The Language Of Kindness is Christie Watson’s memoir of her twenty years as a nurse. The author of the Costa First Book Award winner, Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away, Watson’s prose has a particular flow; even if you’ve not read the novel, as I haven’t, you can see the writing background. Beginning with a short summary of how she came to be a nurse – a previously indecisive sixteen year old finding reward working for patients with the charity now called Scope – Watson details many periods of her career, individual stories of hospital stays, good health and happiness alongside sadness, with a close attention to privacy for those involved.

A photograph of Michael Wolff's Fire And Fury

Fire And Fury is Michael Wolff’s ‘Trump era exposé’, an account of the early days of Trump’s presidency by a journalist who was afforded particularly good access to the White House in the first hundred (and more) days of the time, and also followed the campaign. As Wolff details, few on the campaign team thought that Trump would be elected, and Trump had a concession speech prepared. And as the election was very different to others, there was a lot to get used to. Told in a style that’s anything but dry, and featuring mirade interviews, it’s proved a popular book so far.

A photograph of Michelle Obama's Becoming

Becoming is Michelle Obama’s memoir, a hefty tome of a book that, though I’ve only read a couple of chapters so far, is surely worth every one of its pages. Told in a lovely detailed and, dare I use the word everyone else has, honest, tone, she tells the story of her early years to the present, with stories that hold particular memories – the preface contains a brief summary of life as First Lady and the return to life outside the White House; the first chapter is focused on early piano lessons in her aunt’s apartment against a background of her general family situation. The book is also on the shortlist for the Audiobook of the Year category (and it’s narrated by Obama herself). A book by and about someone well loved and respected for a great many reasons, who is incidentally also known to be a big reader – this is the book I’d be betting on and would be happy to see win.

Update at 11PM: Michelle Obama won this category as well as Audiobook of the Year. In a video message she said to those gathered at the ceremony: “This is an incredible honour. I want to thank the British Book Awards for this recognition, as well as Penguin Random House UK and everyone who helped bring this book to life – especially the readers. It’s been such an uplifting an powerful experience to share my story with everyone across the United Kingdom these past few months. I especially loved the opportunity to connect with so many bright young women, like the incredible students at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Mulberry schools in London, whose stories reminded me so much of my own. Two years ago, when I started writing this memoir, I wasn’t thinking about awards; my biggest hope was simply to create something meaningful for the people who read it, something they might be able to connect to their own lives. Because I know that my story isn’t unique. It’s the story of a working class black girl learning to make music on the piano with broken keys, of a high school student who wondered if she’s good enough, of a mother trying to balance a career, two daughters and a husband with big goals, while carving out a better sense of herself. I want to thank all of you for allowing me to share my story. My greatest hope now is that each of you will share yours too.”

Have you read any of these or have any thoughts as to which might win?

 
 

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