Colin Dwyer

It was a glitzy night of bow ties and bon mots in New York City. But the real attractions at the 66th annual National Book Awards were the winners themselves: Adam Johnson, in fiction; Ta-Nehisi Coates, in nonfiction; Robin Coste Lewis, in poetry; and Neal Shusterman, in young people's literature.

At times in her new novel, it seems Ludmila Ulitskaya has her sights set on depicting the entire Soviet Union. The battered tramps, the generals and detainees, the dissidents and KGB informers, scholars, bullies, bumblers and nonpersons — all the lives, large and little, that shaped the hulking 20th-century empire like the dots on a pointillist painting. She crafts a cast of dozens in The Big Green Tent, with an eye trained as intensely on high-altitude Soviet policy as it is on the paupers stretching every last ration.

Be careful about calling Sarah Vowell's latest a history book. The term fits in the broadest sense, sure — but for many, that phrase may also drum up visions of appendices and ponderous chapter titles, obscure maps and pop quizzes. Knee-deep as it may be in the history of the American Revolution, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States doesn't look or act much like its textbook brethren.

Gilded with snark, buoyant on charm, Vowell's brand of history categorically refuses to take itself — or any of its subjects — too seriously.

If you are — or have ever had or been — a kid, if you like to read and you like to creep yourself out, then you probably know the name R.L. Stine. The prolific author has written hundreds of horror stories for kids, none more popular than his long-running series of frightfests, Goosebumps.

At a ceremony Thursday in Austin, Texas, three writers took home Kirkus Prizes: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hanya Yanagihara and Pam Muñoz Ryan. The literary award, now in its second year, awards $50,000 to the winner in each category — nonfiction, fiction and young readers' literature.

Shortlists for the National Book Awards went public Wednesday, halving the number of nominees to just 20 finalists. Among the books that have survived the second round of cuts, a few clear favorites are beginning to emerge — while others have been displaced by less familiar names.

The full lists of finalists can be found below.

Updated at 8:09 a.m. ET

Investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich has been awarded this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy announced Thursday. Alexievich is the first writer from Belarus to win the prize.

Alexievich won "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time," according to the citation for the award.

In creative writing workshops, one maxim often gets passed around — so often, in fact, it can take on the weight of a commandment: "Show, don't tell." The idea, of course, is to convey emotion by depicting only what's happening, and to keep from spelling things out too much.

Kenzaburo Oe, it appears, has little regard for that advice.

Out of 1,032 books, only 18 remain.

Judges for the Kirkus Prize have whittled a vast list of eligible entrants down to just six finalists each in three categories: fiction, nonfiction and young readers' literature. The shortlists for the literary award, now in its second year, boast a healthy mix — between Americans and writers in translation, second-timers and old hands, headline-grabbers and small presses.

And that's not to mention the picture books.

It's not often that you'll get the National Book Awards confused for that other NBA, but at least in this respect they're the same: They don't go picking their winners lightly — or quickly. Since 2013, in a bid to raise its profile, the prestigious literary prize has been unveiling and then whittling its lists of nominees over multiple rounds, over multiple months.

The first of these rounds wrapped up Thursday, as the National Book Foundation rolled out its long list of 10 nominees for the fiction prize.

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