James McBride

If your holiday shopping trip includes a stop at the bookstore, you might consider adding audiobooks to your gift list. And this year, as you slip on headphones to sample the offerings, what you hear might surprise you.

According to Robin Whitten, the founder and editor of AudioFile magazine, the genre has far surpassed the conventions of the taped readings of yore.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

James McBride won the National Book Award for fiction Wednesday for The Good Lord Bird, about a young slave in the 1850s who meets and travels with abolitionist John Brown.

The annual awards, presented by the National Book Foundation, honor American authors for works published over the past year in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

(This post was updated at 10:30 a.m.)

James McBride won the prestigious National Book Award for fiction on Wednesday for his novel The Good Lord Bird about a young slave who joins the abolitionist John Brown in his anti-slavery mission. Also honored were George Packer, who won in the nonfiction category, Mary Szybist, for poetry, and Cynthia Kadohata, for young people's literature.

"I was born a colored man and don't you forget it," announces Henry Shackleford in the opening pages of musician and author James McBride's novel, The Good Lord Bird. A manuscript, supposedly discovered after a church fire cleanup, offers the first person account of Henry, a young slave living in the Kansas Territories in 1857, as he becomes involved – reluctantly – with the anti-slavery forces led by John Brown.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Before abolitionist and Harpers Ferry raider John Brown became a hymn, he was a flesh and blood human being: Bible-thumping, rifle-toting, heroic and maybe more than a little unhinged.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

My summer reading preferences are so particular they have, at times, stopped me from reading at all. I need a romance for a train trip — for obvious reasons. When it's hot, I prefer something with no climate congruence at all; I've never enjoyed Anna Karenina so much as I did on the beach (that romance is a train exception — er ... for obvious reasons). When I'm on a plane trip, I like a passel of good young-adult novels, filled with cliffhangers, reversals and quick emotion. It's a mood makeover in flight.