This year, the National Book Awards ceremony comes at a time when the nation has rarely seemed more divided. The bitter presidential campaign exposed a fault line in the United States that will not easily be repaired. And while there's no one simple answer, Lisa Lucas, head of the National Book Foundation, recommends one way to understand the other side: read.
"My life is small" she says, "and I think books are a way to make your life larger."
Lucas has an almost unbounded belief in the power of reading. She took over the reins of the influential foundation last March (you can hear more about that in the audio story above). On Wednesday, she steps into the spotlight when the organization hosts the National Book Awards in New York. This will be the first time Lucas presides over the annual event, which is all about celebrating great writers and great books.
Lucas is an avid social media user, but she doesn't believe Twitter will ever replace books — they're just too different. You don't scroll through a book quickly while waiting in line for a latte. When you read a book, you enter another world, and you have to spend time in that world. Reading a book, Lucas says, is a "protracted engagement" with people who are different from you personally, culturally and — perhaps most important at this moment — politically.
"We all need to be reading across the lines we've drawn in our lives," she says.
For her friends and colleagues in New York City, that may mean picking up one of this year's nonfiction finalists, Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild about Tea Party conservatives in Louisiana's bayou country. And Lucas wishes the people Hochschild interviewed for her book would read last year's nonfiction winner, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, about what it means to be black in America.
She says a book is a great connector, so the next time you're looking for something to read, "don't just read the thing that you think is for you ... read the thing that's not."