The nominees for the National Book Award were announced yesterday. The list of nominees is long. Where do you start? Here are 2 recommendations:

From Euan Kerr:

I’ve always enjoyed dystopian novels, but Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” takes the genre to a new literary level. While she creates a world which is enduring horrible calamity in the form of a virulent flu which wipes out most of humanity, her literary creation is of the community of survivors living on in their new reality. It’s a group comprised of ordinary people finding ways of facing its new reality, and re-establishing some form of civilization. It’s not comfortable, but, other than moments of abject terror, Mandel’s story is engrossing in the way it portrays life that’s it’s not that different from our own everyday struggles.

From Kerri Miller:

I opened “All the Light We Cannot See” with a certain amount of wariness: What is there new to say about the experience of World War II? But Anthony Doerr’s characters come from such unexpected places and live such richly detailed days during the war. I feel like he’s ruined me for any other war-time novel!

If you have a favorite novel or work of non-fiction from 2014, share it below.

We did our Friday Roundtable today about the perils, costs and benefits of living longer. The conversation was inspired by Ezekiel Emanuel’s recent article in The Atlantic provocatively titled “Why I Hope to Die at 75.”

As a counterpoint, read Roger Angell’s lovely article from The New Yorker about being a 93 year-old widower in New York City. He misses his wife. He misses friends. He lists his many ailments — pain from shingles, creaky knees, sore back — but also paints a portrait of a life that sounds lovely and worth living.

I am a world-class complainer but find palpable joy arriving with my evening Dewar’s, from Robinson Cano between pitches, from the first pages once again of “Appointment in Samarra” or the last lines of the Elizabeth Bishop poem called “Poem.” From the briefest strains of Handel or Roy Orbison, or Dennis Brain playing the early bars of his stunning Mozart horn concertos. (This Angel recording may have been one of the first things (my wife) Carol and I acquired just after our marriage, and I hear it playing on a sunny Saturday morning in our Ninety-fourth Street walkup.) Also the recalled faces and then the names of Jean Dixon or Roscoe Karns or Porter Hall or Brad Dourif in another Netflix rerun. Chloë Sevigny in “Trees Lounge.” Gail Collins on a good day. Family ice-skating up near Harlem in the nineteen-eighties, with the Park employees, high on youth or weed, looping past us backward to show their smiles.

And if you want more to read about getting old, here’s a list of 10 novels and stories assembled by writer Paul Bailey. It includes Muriel Spark’s funny and dark “Momento Mori.”

And here are the books mentioned by our Roundtable guests:

Michael O’Keefe: “Wonderful Life” by Stephen Jay Gould.

Lou Bellamy: James Baldwin’s “Another Country” and “The Fire Next Time.”

I had sushi for lunch today. Why?

Maybe habit.

Maybe simply because I like sushi.

Or maybe I am being controlled by bacteria.

This isn’t paranoia on my part. A new article in BioEssays argues that the 100 trillion bacteria living on your body may be manipulating you. Here’s an excerpt from RealClearScience Journal Club:

Scientists Joe Alcock, Carlo C. Maley, and C. Athena Aktipis reviewed the research on how microbiota affect the brain, and believe there’s a strong case that bacteria influence overall eating behavior. It seems that the bacteria in our guts don’t simply wait for whatever leftovers we have to offer. They actively seek out their preferred meals through tricky deception.

“Microbes have the capacity to manipulate behavior and mood through altering the neural signals in the vagus nerve, changing taste receptors, producing toxins to make us feel bad, and releasing chemical rewards to make us feel good,” Aktipis says.

So the next time you decide to eat a grilled cheese instead of a salad, ask who wants it. You? Or these guys?