Colin Dwyer

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.

If you've opened a novel by Patrick DeWitt before, it ought to come as no surprise to find that a pivotal scene in his new one hinges on acts unprintable. That is, at least, as far as NPR's family-friendly website is concerned. If you haven't yet cracked one of his books, suffice to say the scene I'm referring to boasts violence, sloppy nudity, acts of lewdness — and one piece of cylindrical lunchmeat, alarmingly misused.

In the three decades that the National Medals of Arts have been awarded, the list of recipients has grown long and luminous. Ray Bradbury, Maya Angelou, Aretha Franklin, Frank Capra, Georgia O'Keeffe, even AT&T (and many, many more) — the artists and arts patrons who have earned the prize from the U.S. government are as hallowed in name as they are diverse in discipline.

This year, that list got a bit horrific.

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