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.

Pages