The National Book Foundation revealed the finalists in four categories - fiction, non-fiction, young people's literature and poetry - for the prizes which will be awarded on Nov. 19 in New York.
"One of the things I think stands out is that four of the five books have this civil strife behind them, and I wonder if that is a zeitgeist that is going around in the world of fiction," said Harold Augenbraum, the executive director of the National Book Foundation.
"Three books are set against the background of war, one against medical apocalypse. I think that is very interesting," he added in an interview.
Rabih Alameddine was shortlisted in fiction for "An Unnecessary Woman," his portrait of a reclusive lady living alone in Beirut, along with Phil Klay, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran nominated for "Redeployment," his book of short stories about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Marilynne Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize winner and two-time National Book Award finalist, was selected for "Lila," a book about a young, homeless girl in Iowa.
Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See," a novel set in World War Two and Emily St. John Mandel's "Station Eleven," which follows a theater troupe in the aftermath of a pandemic, complete the five fiction finalists.
In the non-fiction category, Roz Chast is the first cartoonist to be a finalist in an adult category for her memoir, "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?"
"I guess that has probably something to do with the broader acceptance of that type of book, the graphic novel, memoir, comic, cartoon - whatever you want to call it," Augenbraum said about its inclusion.
Also nominated are John Lahr's biography "Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh," and Anand Gopal's "No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War through Afghan Eyes."
Evan Osnos was shortlisted for "Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China," along with Edward O. Wilson, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1979 and 1991, for his book "The Meaning of Human Existence."
The poetry finalists include Pulitzer Prize winner and three-time National Book Award finalist Louise Gluck for "Faithful and Virtuous Night," Fanny Howe's "Second Childhood," Maureen N. McLane's "This Blue," Fred Moten's "The Feel Trio" and Claudia Rankine for "Citizen: An American Lyric."
Jacqueline Woodson was shortlisted in the young people's literature category for "Brown Girl Dreaming," a book about an African-American girl growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.
Other finalists include Eliot Schrefer's "Threatened," a tale about young man studying chimpanzees, Steve Sheinkin's "The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights," Deborah Wilies for "Revolution: The Sixties Trilogy, Book Two," and John Corey Whaley for "Noggin."
The finalists were selected by a panel of writers and experts and were announced on National Public Radio.