Find it at your library!

One way to find good books to read is to keep an eye out for award winners. Of course, just because a book has won an honor from an institution doesn't mean it is guaranteed to become your next favorite. That's why it's helpful to have a working knowledge of the various awards and the kinds of books their judges generally recognize. If you're not a fan of children's literature, for example, a Caldecott Medal winner, no matter how well-written, probably won't be your cup of tea. 

You can find a list of the major literary awards here, with a short description of the institution bestowing the honor, as well as the individuals who get to make the decision. (I had to smile when I saw the Hugo Award described as β€œthe Oscars of the science fiction world.”)

This book by Nathan Filer skipped to the top of my virtual to-read pile when I read that it had been named the 2013 Costa Book of the Year. I hadn't heard of the Costas, but with a little research I found that it used to be called the Whitbread Award, and that rang a vague bell somewhere in my mind-jungle. In case your bells are also vague, the Costa Book Awards are given every year to outstanding works by authors based in the UK and Ireland.

Filer's was certainly a well-deserved win. Where the Moon Isn't (published in the UK as The Shock of the Fall) is narrated by Matthew Homes, a young man who, we can tell immediately, has some problems. His brother died under suspicious circumstances when they were both children. We know Matthew was involved, but he's skittish when the topic comes up, and skirts around the more painful parts of the story. Gradually, as Matthew describes his interactions with nurses and social workers, it becomes clear that he has spent time in a mental health facility, and the critical incident that incited his struggles was his brother's death.

Filer brings surprising empathy and authenticity to Matthew's voice, likely because he has spent time as a nurse on in-patient psychiatric wards. The book is clearly written by someone who understands mental illness. It brought to mind other great books that creatively render mentally ill characters: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Bell Jar, It's Kind of a Funny Story.

There's just something irresistible about books that lay bare the human psyche. If you find yourself absorbed by such stories, you may also enjoy my recommendation for The Silver Linings Playbook, which was a sweet and unexpectedly funny account of recovery.