“Who doesn’t love a good book list?” I thought as I first scrolled through this year’s list of longlisted titles for the PEN America Book Awards. This year’s nominees are especially good, and I keep rereading these lists over and over, always deciding to add yet another book to my TBR. You can find the complete list of longlisted titles for each award on their website, but I’m going to highlight some of my favorite titles from this year’s round to help you jumpstart your listening.
Two of my favorite nonfiction titles of the year made not one but TWO PEN America longlists. Both The Kissing Bug and White Magic were longlisted for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, which is given to “a book-length work of any genre for its originality, merit, and impact, which has broken new ground by reshaping the boundaries of its form and signaling strong potential for lasting influence.” They were also longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award, which is given to “an exceptional book-length work of any literary genre by an author of color.”
White Magic by Elissa Washuta, Narrated by Kyle Garcia
There are few writers that can take you on a journey like Elissa Washuta does in her essays. I love how Washuta takes two (or more) seemingly unrelated ideas and ties them together perfectly. White Magic is a must-listen for any nonfiction lover.
The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Family, an Insect, and a Nation’s Neglect of a Deadly Disease by Daisy Hernández, Narrated by Frankie Corzo
I really love Daisy Hernández’s memoir A Cup of Water Under My Bed, so when I heard about The Kissing Bug, I knew I had to listen to it ASAP. In her latest book, Hernández tells the story of her aunt, who lived with Chagas disease much of her life, and examines why many doctors in the U.S. have never heard of the disease, let alone know how to treat it.
Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz, Narrated by Machelle Williams
Milk Blood Heat was longlisted for both the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection. This incredible collection features intergenerational stories from Florida.
I looked at the longlist for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel and couldn’t even begin to know where to start — there are so many amazing titles on this list!
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters, Narrated by Renata Friedman
Detransition, Baby stands out as one of the most memorable novels that I listened to this year. Torrey Peters possesses this brilliant ability to make readers feel like they intimately know each character, but even then, Peters wows readers again and again, surprising us at every turn.
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Narrated by Adenrele Ojo, Karen Chilton, and Prentice Onayemi
I can’t even keep track of how many awards and honors this incredible novel has received, so it was no surprise to see it honored by the PEN Awards as well. This multigenerational story begins with a woman looking into her past trying to better understand her family. As she learns more about her ancestors, so do listeners. And don’t be intimidated by its length; you will never want this audiobook to end.
The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Narrated by Joniece Abbott-Pratt
As someone who does not “science” well, I often feel intimidated by the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, but I shouldn’t be! The Disordered Cosmos is the perfect example of how science nerds of any skill or ability can enjoy science writing, which is part of the joy of this award.
Pure America: Eugenics and the Making of Modern Virginia by Elizabeth Catte, Narrated by Jo Anna Perrin
The PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction has an incredible range of titles this year, including Pure America by Appalachian author Elizabeth Catte. This slim volume details Virginia’s use of eugenics to control certain populations in the state.
Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1999 by Sarah Schulman, Narrated by Rosalyn Coleman Williams, and Sarah Schulman
Another longlisted title for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, Let the Record Show is a detailed history of the New York chapter of ACT UP during the height of the AIDS crisis in the late ’80s and early ’90s. This work gives listeners an incredible amount of detail about the incredible importance of ACT UP’s work during this point in U.S. history.