We’ve talked a lot (ad nauseum?) about book awards lately, dear readers–about who gets to choose them, who gets to select them, and what each prize means. And while I’m sure we all have our own favorite awards–meaning those prizes that help us find the best new books to read–I have one that any library patron can be excited about.
The International Dublin Literary Award is funding entirely by the City of Dublin, Ireland, and is awarded each year for a novel written in English or translated into English. At €100,000, the award is one of the richest literary prizes in the world. If the winning book is a translation (as it has been 8 times), the prize is divided between the writer and the translator, with the writer receiving €75,000 and the translator €25,000 (because, as we’ve discussed, we all owe our translators a great deal more than we can ever pay them).
But you know what the best part of the prize is (from a Behind The Desk Perspective)? The books are nominated by Libraries from around the world! Every year, some 400 ballots are sent out to libraries around the globe (you can see the full list of this years participants here), and the top 10 books make the longlist, which is announced in November, or there abouts. The shortlist has just recently been announced, with the prize being awarded in June. The International Dublin Literary Award has been dubbed “the most eclectic and unpredictable of the literary world’s annual gongs”, because of the diversity of its nominators and their reading habits–but this also makes for quite an adventurous reading list for us to sample!
Perhaps one day soon we’ll have a hand in nominating books for this award, but for now, how about we warm up with the short list for this years prize:
*This post is part of Free for All’s “Making Magic” series, which will focus on Kelley’s exploration of the opportunities in the library’s Creativity Lab as well as musings about art, creativity and imagination.
In 2015, I had the privilege of exploring the Laurance Rockefeller Preserve in Grand Teton National Park. The preserve is made up of over 1,000 acres that include stunning hiking trails, among them a particularly impressive path around Phelps Lake, and a nature center exhibit unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I’ll admit, not being much of a museum person, when my dad suggested that we visit an indoor exhibit when we could immediately take to the trails instead, I wasn’t overly enthused. What I expected was a typical visitor center with some information about the Rockefellers accompanied by photos and a park ranger to answer questions. What I found there instead was an unforgettable and richly sensory space, and what I now think of as my favorite sections of Grand Teton National Park.
The exhibit included the things I expected, but it also had a warm, welcoming and beautiful library that offered a broad selection of environmental literature and nature writing. More impressive was the sensory exhibit that could just as easily be a meditation space, where you can sit and view a rotating display of park images while you listen to life-like audio of elks bugling and snow falling. If you were to close your eyes, you would easily think you were outside. But for me, the awe moment was when I realized that we were guided through the entire exhibit, line by line, by a poem written by my favorite author, Terry Tempest Williams.
In her book, The Hour of Land, Williams describes her work with the team that created the Laurance Rockefeller Preserve and says they were people who “were committed to feeling the land, not just using it.” That quote is the best way I can think of to describe the space they have since shared with the world. In the preserve, whether outdoors or in, you feel the land, a tribute not only to the wild place it celebrates but to Laurence Rockefeller himself, whose interest in meditation is reflected in the very essence of the place that bears his name.
The Laurance Rockefeller Preserve is a remarkable example of creativity at work on so many levels. From space planning, to land preservation, to the words the bind the exhibit, the long-view vision that created this place is extraordinary in its scope, and yet its effect on visitors is a sense of humble, reverent peace. The following is the text of the poem that compelled me to love this place. And if you decide to read more by Terry Tempest Williams, I guarantee that many of her words will live inside you long after you first read them.
A Meditation on Phelps Lake
by Terry Tempest Williams (text translated line by line from the walls of the Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve)
A feather floats on Phelps Lake-
a cradle of light
rocking with the breeze.
Wind speaks through pines.
Light animates granite.
An Eagle soars – its shadow crosses over us.
All life is intertwined.
We see the Great Peaks
mirrored in water-
Reflection Leads us to restoration.
Nature quiets the mind
by engaging with an intelligence
larger than our own.
Mindful of different ways of being,
Our awareness as a species shifts-
We recognize the soul of the land as our own.
The path of wisdom invites us
to walk with a humble heart
recognizing the dance
between diversity and unity,
action and restraint.
The Scales of Nature
will always seek equilibrium
A feather can tip the balance.
It’s a glorious holiday weekend, dear readers, and so we’ll keep things brief, wish you a very happy, safe, relaxing, joyful Memorial Day! Don’t forget, after today, the Library will be closed until Tuesday!
And now, here are some of the books that have gamboled onto our shelves this week:
Into the Water: One of the summer’s biggest releases is here–Paula Hawkins’ second book after her stunning and wildly successful Girl on a Train. In this twisty tale, Hawkins brings another tale of psychic tension and social unease that is sure to keep fans flipping the pages. A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged. Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return. Sophomore works are always a challenge, but Hawkins seems to have carried this one off with aplomb, resulting in a work that the USA Today calls a “succulent new mystery… Hawkins, influenced by Hitchcock, has a cinematic eye and an ear for eerie, evocative language… So do dive in. The payoff is a socko ending. And a noirish beach read that might make you think twice about dipping a toe in those dark, chilly waters.”
Since We Fell: And speaking of summer blockbusters, I think it’s probably safe to say that Dennis Lehane’s newest release is going to be another summer favorite–and, hopefully, a much-needed twist on the current run of psychological thrillers involving scary spouses. Here, Rachel Childs, a former journalist who, after an on-air mental breakdown, now lives as a virtual shut-in. In all other respects, however, she enjoys an ideal life with an ideal husband. Until a chance encounter on a rainy afternoon causes that ideal life to fray. As does Rachel’s marriage. As does Rachel herself. Sucked into a conspiracy thick with deception, violence, and possibly madness, Rachel must find the strength within herself to conquer unimaginable fears and mind-altering truths. By turns heart- breaking, suspenseful, romantic, and sophisticated, Lehane is already winning acclaim from critics and readers across the country, with New York Times confirming “[Lehane] remains one of the great, diabolical thriller kings who seems intimately acquainted with darkness and can make it seep from the page.”
Behave : the biology of humans at our best and worst: From the celebrated neurobiologist and primatologist, a landmark, genre-defining examination of human behavior, both good and bad, and an answer to the question: Why do we do the things we do? Sapolsky begins with a neurological answer: What went on in a person’s brain a second before the behavior happened? Then Sapolsky pulls out to a slightly larger field of vision, a little earlier in time: What sight, sound, or smell caused the nervous system to produce that behavior? And then, what hormones acted hours to days earlier to change how responsive that individual is to the stimuli that triggered the nervous system? From there he expands to consider behavioral and learned habits and cultural experiences that weigh in on the brain’s inherent reactions. Utilizing cutting-edge research across a range of disciplines, Sapolsky builds on this understanding to wrestle with some of our deepest and thorniest questions relating to tribalism and xenophobia, hierarchy and competition, morality and free will, and war and peace. Wise, humane, often very funny, Behave is a towering achievement that Kirkus called (in it’s starred review), a “wide-ranging, learned survey of all the making-us-tick things that, for better or worse, define us as human…. An exemplary work of popular science, challenging but accessible.”
Burntown: This is a “new to us” books, but any time a Jennifer McMahon novel comes to the Library, it’s worthy of note. In her newest tale of sleepy towns and hidden secrets, McMahon has also worked in a little science fiction that makes the whole story into something utterly original. Ashford, Vermont, might look like your typical sleepy New England college town, but to the shadowy residents who live among the remains of its abandoned mills and factories, it’s known as “Burntown.” Eva Sandeski, known as “Necco” on the street, has been a part of this underworld for years, ever since the night her father Miles drowned in a flood that left her and her mother Lily homeless. A respected professor, Miles was also an inventor of fantastic machines, including one so secret that the plans were said to have been stolen from Thomas Edison’s workshop. According to Lily, it’s this machine that got Miles murdered. Necco has always written off this claim as the fevered imaginings of a woman consumed by grief. But when Lily dies under mysterious circumstances, and Necco’s boyfriend is murdered, she’s convinced her mother was telling the truth. Now, on the run from the man called “Snake Eyes,” Necco must rely on other Burntown outsiders to survive, resulting in a story of edge-of-your-seat suspense that Booklist calls “bar-raising. . . . . A stunning genre blend of thriller and fantasy.”
The potlikker papers : a food history of the modern South: Like great provincial dishes around the world, potlikker is a salvage food. During the antebellum era, slave owners ate the greens from the pot and set aside the leftover potlikker broth for the enslaved, unaware that the broth, not the greens, was nutrient rich. After slavery, potlikker sustained the working poor, both black and white. In the South of today, potlikker has taken on new meanings as chefs have reclaimed it. Potlikker is a quintessential Southern dish, and The Potlikker Papers is a people’s history of the modern South, told through its food. Beginning with the pivotal role cooks and waiters played in the civil rights movement, noted authority John T. Edge narrates the South’s fitful journey from a hive of racism to a hotbed of American immigration. He shows why working-class Southern food has become a vital driver of contemporary American cuisine. Over the last three generations, wrenching changes have transformed the South. The Potlikker Papers tells the story of that dynamism—and reveals how Southern food has become a shared culinary language for the nation. Whether you’re a connoisseur, or interested in the ways in which food is an intricate part of our history and culture, this is a book for you. Indeed, Southern Living called this book “The one food book you must read this year…No matter the subject, there is always something to learn from Edge’s work…The Potlikker Papers is a reminder of where we’ve been, how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.”
Last week, I promised to bring up the issue of class and book awards, and since we didn’t have the time to discuss it last week, as a follow-up to our discussion of the Hugo Awards and the Puppy Invasion, I figured we might as well get to work now, dear readers.
One of the issues that was discussed, as reported by Wired, during the Puppy Horror was the class aspect of the awards. And while most of the points brought up were exclusionary and near-sighted, there is an element to this argument that should be addressed.
In December of 2014, author Adrian McKinty (pictured left, courtesy of The Irish Times), author of the Sean Duffy crime novels, which I adore, and the Michael Forsythe series, which I also adore, among other literary achievements, sat down and wrote a blog post about the Man Booker Prize (fair warning: there is some strong language in the post). In it, he challenged two-time Booker-prize-winning author Peter Carey’s claim that Americans should not be allowed to compete for the prize since it would, essentially, spoil the ‘particular cultural flavour’ of the award.* McKinty used this argument as a jumping-off point to argue that the actual “flavour” of the Booker Prize was classicism, not nationalism. As he noted, the vast, vast majority of the judges for the Booker Prize were attended private schools (which are much more elite than our version), while only 5% of the British population as a whole had attended private schools. The result, he stated, was that:
…the Booker Prize judging panels are almost always made up of posh people and their chairperson is almost always very posh indeed. Posh people naturally would be sympathetic towards books about their own class and resistant to challenges to the status quo, hence Peter Carey’s worry about vulgar Americans entering the fray. (Peter Carey boarded at Geelong Grammar, one of the most expensive and exclusive private schools in Australia.) In consequence the Booker Prize winning novel is often a safe middle class rather dull book.
He also proposed a short set of practices that might help the Booker Prize improve its nominations, which included allowing publishing houses to send in more than one book for consideration (that way they could be riskier in their nominations, rather than nominating books they think will win based on past years), and encouraging genre fiction, because: “The best science fiction, crime fiction and romance writing is often as good as literary fiction but these books seldom make the Booker shortlist because they are considered to be a low form of writing.”
Surprisingly, McKinty’s recommendations may have actually helped. As he noted in a blog post last October (language, again, FYI) the last three winners of the Booker Prize have been working-class, which points to a conscious attempt at diversity among the jury (See Paul Beatty, the most recent winner of the Man Booker Prize, below).
There are two big issues here: class, especially in the United States, is less defined by income, and is much more a social thing, as the Center for Economic and Policy Research examined in a recent survey. That is mostly because the country is so big and diverse that there is no one bracket to determine wealth (look at house prices in Massachusetts vs. Arkansas, for example). Thus, an income that might define you as “middle class” in one area would put you firmly in the “working class”, or even the “working poor” in other places. So there is no one experience of class, or an ideology of class cohesion.
And class is perhaps the only social identifier that is inherently anti-social. Capitalism, by definition, is a competition. In order to win, you have to beat someone else to resources, to funding, to markets, to jobs, etc. It’s why the relationship between classes is always categorized as a “struggle”. McKinty alludes to this in his blog post, but the brutal point is that this “class struggles” makes us instinctively want to punch “downward”, or at those we perceive as “downward”….which is where the intersection of race, gender, nationality, and class all become significant together.
Because one of the positive things about encouraging books from and about “working class people”, especially in the US, is that we would inherently get more books by and about women, people of color, and immigrants, all of whom make up a plurality of the “working class”, and all of whom go under-represented in fiction.
But there is a snag to this. In order to get these stories, we need to encourage these stories. Because the main identifiers of the “working class”, across the board are A) a lack of higher education and B) a lack of access to continuing education and self-development, for reasons of distance, finances, or familial obligations. And that is a huge, huge issue.
Because we are not going to get those stories unless we encourage people to tell those stories. And in order to do that, we need to give people the tools to be storytellers–reading, writing, and practice. But more than that, we need to provide time and space. The first two can be acquire via education. The second two, however, are some of the most difficult to acquire, especially for those without income security. And no book prize in the world is going to improve its “working class” prejudices until we all show that we value everyone’s stories by listening to them, and providing the space for them to be shared.
*I feel the need to state here that Peter Carey is the author of some of the most important books in my life, includingOscar and Lucindaand His Illegal Self, and use this moment to point out that we all, always, have lots of learning and growing to do.
This here is a two-part blog post, dear readers, because awards season is in full swing, and in order to bring you all the late-breaking news, we need to conserve space. So, firstly, we’d like to congratulate David France’s insider account of the AIDS epidemic, How To Survive A Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS, for being the unanimous winner of this year’s Green Carnation Prize!
Chair of judges and internationally acclaimed author John Boyne said: ‘In this time of renewed activism in an increasingly uncertain world, France’s definitive account of the AIDS crisis and the activists who changed the fate of so many lives, seems vital and important to inspire everyone, not just the LGBTQ+ community. We couldn’t be prouder to choose this book as the rightful winner.’
This past weekend, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America held their annual conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and announced the winners of the Nebula Awards.
The Nebulas were first handed out in 1966, as a response to the Edgar Awards (which celebrated the best in the mystery genre). They are selected by, and voted on, by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There are those who say that the Nebula is a more discriminating (and, thus, discriminatory) award, as it is selected by other writers, who focus (allegedly) on artistry and composition over the plot elements, pacing, and surprises that might attract a reader. On the other hand, because the Nebula voting is so limited, it also means that they have avoided the kind of scandal that hit the Hugos (see our discussion of Puppies from last week). Thus, while most agree that the Hugo is the more well-recognized of the science fiction awards, the Nebula is a highly–prized sign of recognition from the industry, and from one’s peers.
The award celebration itself sounds like a ridiculous amount of fun, not in the least because of the event’s toast master. As report by The Verge:
The event’s toastmaster was Astronaut Kjell Lindgren, who spent 141 days on the International Space Station as part of the Expedition 44 and Expedition 45 missions, where he served as a flight engineer and mission specialist. You might remember him as one of the astronauts who sampled the first station-grown lettuce and took part in an EVA to upgrade the station. He spoke about how NASA was turning science fiction into science fact, and that as a science fiction fan, it was a pleasure to meet some of his heroes who wrote the stories he grew up with. “I am here today because of science fiction,” he said, “my path to space was paved with books.”
I swoon. I also love knowing that science fiction inspired a real live person to imagine impossible things and to go chasing after them. Let that be your inspiration today, while you head down to the Library to check out these terrific, award-winning books!
Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.
Alas, dear readers, sometimes things just don’t go as planned. Sometimes it’s blog posts, sometimes it’s life in general and sometimes it’s books. Readers, I’ve been in a book slump lately. This is different from not having the time to read or just not being able to. I’ve been reading, but I haven’t been enjoying very much of what I’ve read. This happens to all readers, but it’s particularly frustrating when books, including the reading and recommending thereof are a significant part of what you do for work.
When things like this happen, it’s human nature to want to find someone to blame: the author for writing a provocatively titled book but instead dumping an unrelated backlist of already studied research; personal taste for finding a book that’s supposed to be a comedic classic a sad means of poking fun of mental illness; your surroundings for being too distracting to focus on this book that *gosh darn it* is supposed to be gripping and interesting.
And then you find a Book. A book that has everything in it you were looking for and everything you hoped it would be. A book that you had been anticipating, but somehow simultaneously forgot about so its appearance was a delightful surprise. For me this was that book:
I’m not going to go so far as to say this All Over the Place restored my faith in reading. (That’s a bit dramatic even for me.) Honestly, it was never my faith in reading that was shaken; it was more like my ability to choose books that I liked, a questioning of my own taste.
I’d long been a fan of DeRuiter’s blog The Everywhereist. Her particular brand of humor, snark, frankness without being judgmental and love of cupcakes is something I’ve long admired and wanted to emulate (except the love of cupcakes; that I already innately have). So I remember squealing with delight when I read a review that announced her book was coming out and immediately put in on my “to order” list. Then I promptly forgot about it until it came into the library. Then, I squealed again and immediately checked it out to myself.
I devoured this book in only a couple of days and I’m not kidding when I’m saying it was everything I hoped it would be. Rather than rehashing or only slightly editing blog posts that I’d already read, she discussed topics that were familiar, but nevertheless were original content. It felt like chatting with a friend you haven’t seen in a while; you fall back into old patterns but still have new things to discuss. I laughed out loud (a rare feat for me when reading), I was moved and, more importantly, I found I could trust my own judgement in books again. I liked a book exactly as much as I thought I would (in this case, it was a lot to live up to), and maybe even a bit more.
So now, dear readers I can go forth with my confidence in what book to read next a little less shaken, which, in turn allows me to recommend books with a little more confidence to our beloved patrons. Tell next week, dear readers, I’m off to find something new to read and eat a cupcake (or two) in celebration.
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass