Congrats To New National Book Award-Winners George Packer And James McBride

When we read the news this morning that novelist James McBride and New Yorker writer George Packer had garnered the top prize at the National Book Awards, we have to admit that we were pretty pleased. We were lucky enough to feature both writers on our program in the last year.

McBride, who won the top fiction prize for his sweeping pre-Civil War abolitionist novel "The Good Lord Bird," spoke with On Point in late August. His book told the story of John Brown, the anti-slavery activist who, among other things in a busy life, led a botched raid on the armory at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.

"He was quite something to look at," McBride told us. "People compared him to Moses in the Bible."

John Brown lived a dramatic life, but McBride's take on the story is ever-so-slightly comedic. It was an intentional tweak, McBride said.

"It's supposed to be a funny book," McBride said. "I hate books that just tell me what I should know and tell me how I should feel. This is a very difficult period to write about. I wanted to thrust John Brown into the modern day, legendary status like Jesse James without writing a book that was very depressing, and this is what you should know, you know, take your medicine. I wanted to write something that was really interesting and funny."

In May of this year, George Packer joined On Point to talk about his sweeping new book, "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America."

The book, which looked at the aftermath and linger effects of the 2008 "Great Recession," told stories of the many men and women struggling to make ends meet in a very changed country.

"The election of Obama coinciding with the financial crisis — which did seem like a kind of end of part of our system as we knew it — signaled to a lot of people, including me, that we’re at one of those transformational moments like 1932 when Roosevelt was elected in the middle of the Depression," Packer told us. "Or 1980 when Reagan was elected in the middle of the economic disasters of the late 1970s. And it didn’t happen. Obama just has not been able to leverage the presidency into a new way of thinking, talking and acting. It may yet happen — these things can take a long time, but it hasn’t happened yet, and part of that is because these institutions don’t work."

We're glad to see that the work of some of our guests has gone on to earn this kind of praise, but we can't stay that we're surprised. Congratulations to both George Packer and James McBride for a book well-read and written.

This program aired on November 21, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.


More from On Point

Listen Live