One of the most exciting “best of” books each year is the one deemed Barnes & Noble’s “Book of the Year.” This honor is given to a single book that employees at Barnes & Noble (B&N) are the most proud to sell—that’s the only criteria. Last year’s pick was The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse by Charles Mackey, a relatively quiet title until picked for the honor. It’s been on the top of dozens of bestseller lists all 2020, selling well over 300,000 copies by the the summer alone.
This year’s B&N Book of the Year goes to a small press book: World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Published by the nonprofit Milkweed Press, the book has yet to hit any bestseller list, but chances are that’s going to change. Like Mackey’s book last year, World of Wonders is a book prime for gift-giving.
Nezhukumatahil is a poet and World of Wonders is a biographical journey through the natural world she remembers of her childhood. It’s nostalgic and uplifting.
“In a year of brilliant publishing, this luminous and joyous book has been acclaimed by our booksellers,” said B&N CEO James Daunt. “World of Wonders is a captivating book, immensely powerful in the quiet way with which it celebrates the natural world
and what it is to love and to belong. The beautiful writing is complimented by lovely illustrations in what is a celebration also of the art of book design.”
Filipina and Malayali Indian, Nezhukumatahil is part of a small subset of writers of color exploring the natural world.
“It is not lost on me that I barely saw any books about the outdoors by someone who looked like me so I’m especially humbled and honored that the booksellers made a space for me at the table,” said the author about earning this honor. “Having World of Wonders chosen as the Book of the Year is an astonishment for this former hapless chemistry major who wandered the aisles of Barnes & Noble in college in a big city—my first time away from home.”
Booksellers at B&N across the country nominate their favorites of the year for the award, which is then narrowed down to eight finalists. From there, sellers select their favorite from among the list.
This year’s finalists include:
- Accidentally Wes Anderson by Wally Koval
- Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
- Pieometry: Modern Tart Art and Pie Design for the Eye and Palate by Lauren Ko
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi
- Untamed by Glennon Doyle
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
- Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
It’s exciting to see a small book land such an honor, particularly one that makes for the perfect gift idea for the reader who has either read everything or who may be hard to give to. World of Wonders is destined to capture the attention of a wide swath of book lovers, both for its writing and the beauty in its physical (and digital!) form.
If World of Wonders sounds familiar but you can’t quite put your finger on it, perhaps that’s from seeing it named as one of the best book covers of 2020, too.