The Goodreads Choice Awards are here once again, and we’re already knee-deep in the semifinal rounds. The books have been narrowed down to 20 choices in each category, and the competition is tougher than ever. Semifinals last until November 12th, with the final round of voting open from the 14th to the 27th. Winners will be announced December 5th.
In the spirit of friendly competition, two of us are comparing our choices and arguing for our faves— Siskel & Ebert style! Here, BookTrib’s Senior Editor, Aisha K. Staggers, and Contributor, Rachel Carter, share a spirited debate over which books should win in each category:
Rachel: This one is easy! I’m voting for Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesym Ward. I read this for my bookclub and the writing style is unbelievably lovely and engrossing. It made me cry about 100 times – which is exactly what I want out of a literary novel!
Aisha: We featured a lot of the books nominated here on BookTrib, so it was a difficult choice. I chose Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I have a teenage daughter and so I could relate to the main character being a single mom and raising a daughter at that stage in her development. What really was interesting to me was how boldly the author addressed the transracial adoption; you don’t really see too many fiction works that delve into topics that are uncomfortable for some and say, “this is real life, these things happen and there are beautiful stories of families, children and families finding each other.” So that’s my pick. Great book.
Aisha: I like mysteries, my favorites are written by Walter Mosley, the Easy Rawlins series, specifically. I think the winner here should be Righteous (IQ #2) by Joe Ide. Ide writes a lot like Mosley, his characters are smart, witty. It’s like Sherlock Holmes with more street, more edge. Righteous is a sequel. I enjoyed it so much, I have the first in the series on my list of reads for the holidays.
Rachel: I’ll be honest, I don’t read a lot of mystery. Maybe you should choose this one for me, Aisha! But I did read The Ghostwriter, so Alessandra Tore gets my vote this time for her twisty and well-plotted novel. I had only read her romance up until now, but she’s so great at creating complex characters that I knew her mystery would be just as strong. I definitely wasn’t disappointed.
Aisha: Most of the historical fiction I like takes place during my lifetime so 1970s, 80s, 90s, but this one, We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter, takes place during WWII and I enjoyed it. I think it is such a frightening time in world history that it is difficult to put one in that place, but this book made me feel the way I did when I read The Diary of Anne Frank in middle school. It moves pretty fast, through a six year period, WWII is looming overhead, a family fearing they will be sent to the camps flees and get separated, but they are eventually reunited and I think that was the thing for me that changed how I felt while reading it. In real life a lot of families never reunited, but here, they really were the lucky ones.
Rachel: There are so many awesome books in this category, but I’m going with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. My favorite podcast is You Must Remember This (about the secret lives of old Hollywood movie stars), and this book is like an episode come to life. Salacious and fun.
Rachel: At first I was leaning toward Norse Mythology (I mean, it’s Neil Gaiman!), but now I’m going with The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden. I adore books that feel like fairytales, and this gorgeous Russia-set fantasy is one of the best.
Aisha: I’m not really a fantasy fiction person, so this category was a challenge or me. I went with Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop. People who have been a fan of the series seem to rank it as their least favorite in the category, but going in with no prior knowledge, I had no expectations; add to that, I don’t typically read this genre, it wasn’t a bad place to start and kind of reminded me of the times we really are living in.
Rachel: Even though I chosen Arden’s book, I’m insanely happy that you chose Bishop’s! I’ve been a fan of hers for years and years.
Rachel: Oof. This is a hard choice. I want all of them! But if I have to choose, I pick White Hot, by Ilona Andrews. I’m obsessed with the Hidden Legacy series and Rogan and Nevada are the best couple ever. Their chemistry is insane.
Aisha: Another category I don’t read very often, but Dating-ish by Penny Reid is a serious contender in this category for me. It is part of a series, Knitting in the City, but it reads like a stand-alone novel. It’s a really funny book. I mean, dating can be this comical and add to it the experience of dating in the digital age. This was like reading my dating history from the early 2000’s, I kid you not. I laughed the whole time reading this.
Aisha: The first sci-fi book I read that I enjoyed was Kindred by Octavia Butler; it is a classic. My choice in this category is on its way to becoming a classic as well. Home by Nnedi Okorafor is the second book in the Binti series. Where Kindred has the main character reaching back into the past to understand her present-day existence, Home looks at the future and what happens when after a race of people who left earth for another planet that remained in an intra-planetary war with earth has one of its people return in peace after 100 years. Okorafor has a very unique way of crafting a story.
Rachel: I did love Home, but I’m a sucker for time travel, so I’m going with All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai. It feels like a rom-com, except there’s a crazy twisty time warp! Who could ask for anything more.
Rachel: Zombies!! For that alone, I pick The Boy on the Bridge, by M.R. Carey.
Aisha: I chose Hari Kunzru’s White Tears, a mystery about two record collectors. I collect vinyl albums and could spend all day going through stacks of LPs to find a gem. This book was just like that. You have two young collectors who find this obscure jazz recording from the 1920’s and get to unraveling the mystery and murder behind the recording. It’s a ghost story, what ghost story is ever bad?
Rachel: Fair enough. Maybe our zombies & ghosts need to battle it out.
Aisha: W. Kamau Bell is a very funny guy. His book is hysterical! I’m not even going to give a reason why I loved this, the title is enough: The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian. Enough said.
Rachel: I almost chose Bell’s book too! But I changed my mind at the last second. It might not be the most laugh-out-loud funny book on the list, but you can never go wrong with David Sedaris. His Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 is both hilarious and moving.
Aisha: I loved Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, his latest book, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, is an equally good follow up and a favorite for me in this category. It really is one of the most thought provoking essay collections about the eight years of the Obama presidency. What I liked is how Coates reached into the past; the title is a double entendre: “We were eight years in power” was the lament of the first black politicians of the post-reconstruction era who were able to serve in Congress before Jim Crow stripped them of their rights to vote and hold office. Coates’ is one of the premier essayists on this topic.
Rachel: Ha, here’s another time where we almost agreed. I came VERY close to choosing Between the World and Me. But I had to go with American Fire, by Monica Hesse. It’s everything a nonfiction book should be: informative, fascinating, well-researched and with a story that continually surprises you.
Rachel: So. Many. Good. Choices. But I pick Sherman Alexie’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. His account of his complicated mother is brutally honest, heartfelt and just insanely well written.
Aisha: I actually read almost every book in this category. When it comes to memoir, you know it is always that person’s experience or interpretation of their lived experience many years later so there are always multiple ways of viewing things, but consistency counts. I am often reminded of the Million Little Pieces fiasco when I read memoirs. But I am a writer, so I appreciate memoirs by writers. I met Sherman Alexie at a conference about 11 years ago. His book was one to read. You made a good choice there, Rachel. I am going with Hunger by Roxane Gay. I read her articles, she’s very real about politics, popular culture, a real journalist. She gets it. She addresses intersectionality, racism, sexism, body shaming and LGBTQ issues. This book dealt with how she felt about her body and food and the pain that she was hiding. So many people can relate to this. It’s heartbreaking, but you never get the victimhood sentiment from her. Everything about how she tells her story is triumphant.
Aisha: I presented at a conference in 2005 about the murder of Emmett Till, I saw what he saw on a tour of Money, MS before he was killed. I saw the shed where he was tortured. I sat on the witness stand where Emmett’s mother testified against the men who killed her child. So I’ve read all the books about this case. The book I had been waiting for since I learned about Emmett Till when I was 14 was the memoir his mother wrote in 2004. I would say this is probably the second. The Blood of Emmett Till made headlines back in February because after nearly 62 years, the woman whose false accusations lead to this child’s death confessed to the author of this book that she lied and Emmett did nothing that warranted losing his life. It didn’t offer details I was unaware of, but for that admission… it’s an important book.
Rachel: Okay, your story is almost making me want to change my choice! Almost. But when I first heard about the radium girls of WWII I was both horrified and fascinated. The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore is an even deeper look at the haunting stories of these victims and the factories and corporations who tried to bury their truth. Unbelievably good.
Rachel: We finally agree! It takes a lot to make me care about astrophysics, so I have to hand it to Neil DeGrasse Tyson and his Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. He made me get astrophysics. At least, sort of.
Rachel: I check the Smitten Kitchen blog every chance I get, so I’m going to stay loyal and vote for Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Every Day.
Aisha: The one thing I miss the most about my grandmother, aside from her stories, is her cooking. I could never cook like her; I will never cook like her, but with Michael W. Twitty’s book, The Cooking Gene, I can at least pretend to try. Regular, down-home southern cooking, no frills.
Aisha: I am going with Real Friends by Shannon Hale. It’s appropriate for children and adults. As a woman, you can remember what being a middle school girl is like and how taciturn young girls can be with one another. This book really captures that and drives home the point that friends don’t mistreat one another or freeze others out to feel important. It’s Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret for millennials.
Rachel: I am the biggest Hale fan ever, but I had to go in a different direction this time. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui will make you cry, then think, then cry again. It’s crazy good.
Rachel: Marie Howe. Magdelene. Hands down.
Aisha: I went with Solo by Kwame Alexander. It is really a challenge to get young men interested in poetry and Alexander offers a different type of poetry; it is the poetry of this generation. It’s the poetry of music, lyrics, text messages and social media. It’s spoken word 2.0. It is a collection of prose, but weaves a storyline like it is a novel which is very difficult to accomplish in a poetry collection.
Rachel: The Hate U Give! By Angie Thomas! I wanted to vote for this searing look at police shootings in the young adult category, but I feel like it’s the kind of book that everyone should read, regardless of age. So it gets my vote here instead.
Aisha: I co-sign that choice! It was the same one I chose and for the same reasons.
Aisha: There were a lot of really good choices here, it was very hard to select just one. I picked The Hate U Give for this category as well. This book is just that important, especially for young people who are going to become future leaders.
Rachel: I seriously want to pick them all. Can I please just pick them all?? If I have to choose, then I’m going with We Are Okay, by Nina LaCour. It’s dreamy and well-written and hauntingly beautiful. It’s not easy to capture an audience’s attention when your character rarely leaves her room, but LaCour nails this complicated narrative from start to finish.
Rachel: Another crazy tough category. It’s a hard choice, but I pick The Flame in the Mist, by Renee Ahdieh. It’s Mulan meets 47 Ronin! Plus it’s both romantic and action packed.
Aisha: Neal Shusterman’s Scythe is my pick here. Imagine a world where all the really big problems have been solved, except population control and this band of people, Scythes, are supposed to do that job by killing people. Is this really what could happen in a world with virtually no other problems?
Rachel: See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng! Space, a plucky kid, an epic road trip – what’s not to like.
Rachel: I’m voting for She Persisted, by Chelsea Clinton. This is also a book that everyone of all ages should be reading.
Aisha: The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson gets my vote here. I have always said that the civil rights movement really was a movement that began and ended with children being the focus. They were the catalyst that sparked the movement like I said earlier about Tyson’s book The Blood of Emmett Till and at the close of that decade, with busing and the like, children were again at the forefront of this push for change. This book shows that social justice is not just for adults and sometimes the best people suited to lead a nation are our children.