Five Book Friday!

And for those of you celebrating today, Happy Mother’s Day!

In our family, Mother’s Day was celebrated with my Grandfather, who managed to be both a mother and father while my Mom was growing up.  As a result, I learned early on that “Mothers” could embody any number of identities–in fact, I’ve had any number of mothers in my life, both literary and physical.  From Marmee in Little Women, who told her daughters to be angry (as long as they used that anger to good purposes) and to be happy to Carson Drew, from the early Nancy Drew mysteries, who let his daughter think for herself…to my own Moominmamma, who gives the best hugs, and always has her purse on her arm.  I hope each and every one of you, literary and real, have a lovely weekend.

And now, on to the books!

House of Names: Colm Tóibín is one of the finest story-tellers working today, and in this work, that re-imagines the story of Clytemnestra, he puts all his talents to use.  Judged, despised, cursed by gods she has long since lost faith in, Clytemnestra reveals the tragic saga that led to her infamous, bloody actions: how her husband deceived her eldest daughter Iphigeneia with a promise of marriage to Achilles, only to sacrifice her because that is what he was told would make the winds blow in his favor and take him to Troy; how she seduced and collaborated with the prisoner Aegisthus, who shared her bed in the dark and could kill; how Agamemnon came back with a lover himself; and how Clytemnestra finally achieved her vengeance for his stunning betrayal—his quest for victory, greater than his love for his child.  Clytemnestra’s tale has become something of a feminist touch-stone recently, and here, Tóibín brings a modern sensibility and language to an ancient classic, and gives this extraordinary character new life, so that we not only believe Clytemnestra’s thirst for revenge, but applaud it.  The Washington Post echoes this in their review, which praises the book, saying “Despite the passage of centuries, this is a disturbingly contemporary story of a powerful woman caught between the demands of her ambition and the constraints on her gender…Never before has Tóibín demonstrated such range, not just in tone but in action. He creates the arresting, hushed scenes for which he’s so well known just as effectively as he whips up murders that compete, pint for spilled pint, with those immortal Greek playwrights.”

Cave Dwellers: Richard Grant’s new espionage novel is billed as “an eleventh hour attempt to overthrow Adolf Hitler”, but there is so much more going on here, and much more emphasis places on these unique characters’ identities, secrets, and connections, that even those who aren’t big into spy thrillers will find plenty to enjoy.  In late 1937, the young lieutenant Oskar Langweil is recruited to this cause while attending a party at the lavish home of a baroness. A high-ranking officer in Germany’s counterintelligence agency brings Oskar into the fold because of their mutual involvement in a patriotic youth league, and soon dispatches him to Washington, D.C., on a perilous mission. Despite his best efforts, Oskar is compromised, and must immediately find a way to sneak back into Germany unnoticed. A childhood friend introduces him to Lena, a Socialist and fellow expat, and they hatch a plan to have Oskar pose as her husband as they cross the Atlantic on a cruise ship filled with Nazis and fellow travelers. But bad luck follows them at every turn, and they find themselves messily entangled with the son of a U.S. Senator, a White Russian princess, a disgraced journalist, an aging brigadier, and a gay SS officer as the novel races toward an explosive conclusion.  Kirkus Reviews gave this book a starred review, praising it as “An understated, entertaining [and] exceptional period thriller focused on homegrown opposition to Hitler. . . . Grant builds tension slowly, then ratchets it up with fine pacing.  The main characters are well-drawn, but the minor ones are also memorable, from a White Russian princess in an ancien régime Berlin salon to a cabaret mentalist.”

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell:  The subtitle of this book will probably give you the best insight into what’s between the covers:Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian.  But if that isn’t enough, let me describe some of this book to you: It’s a humorous, well-informed take on the world today, tackling a wide range of issues, from race relations and the state of law enforcement today to comedians and superheroes; from politics and failure to Bell’s interracial marriage; from  his up-bringing by very strong-willed, race-conscious, yet ideologically opposite parents to his own adventures in fatherhood; from his early days struggling to find his comedic voice to why he never seemed to fit in with the Black comedy scene . . . or the white comedy scene; and how it took his wife and an East Bay lesbian to teach him that racism and sexism often walk hand in hand.  Those who have enjoyed Bell in his wonderful show United Shades of America will love these essays, and those who have yet to discover his unique voice will find much to enjoy here…or, as Publisher’s Weekly put it: “Those unfamiliar with Bell’s work or expecting a lighthearted read from a popular comedian will be surprised by the book’s breadth and depth…This informative read will be illuminating and worthwhile for aspiring comedians and general readers.”

The Song and the Silence: In 1966, Yvette Johnson’s grandfather, Booker Wright, who owned his own business, and also worked evenings serving white diners at a local restaurant, appeared on the NBC documentary Mississippi: A Self-Portrait, and explained what life was truly like for Black people in the segregated world of Greenwood.  His act of truth and courage became a beacon for the civil rights movement; but Yvette herself was born a year after Wright passed away, and grew up in a wealthy San Diego neighborhood.  As such, she never had to confront race the way Southern Blacks did in the 1960s. Compelled to learn more about her roots, she travels to Greenwood, Mississippi, a beautiful Delta town steeped in secrets and a scarred past, to interview family members and townsfolk about the real Booker Wright. As she uncovers her grandfather’s compelling story and gets closer to the truth behind his murder, she also confronts her own conflicted feelings surrounding race, family, and forgiveness.  An astonishing work about history, identity, and the potentially hopeful future we can forge, Johnson’s memoir is a fascinating and heartfelt piece that won a starred review from Booklist, which stated, “In addition to beautiful, evocative descriptions, a great strength of Johnson’s writing lies in her unique ability to absorb and relay several dimensions of conversations about painful and emotional topics.”

Less Than a Treason: Readers of Dana Stabenow’s mysteries featuring native Aleut Private Investigator Kate Shugak will know by now that very little can stop Kate in her pursuit of the truth.  For those who don’t know her, Kate Shugak is a native Aleut working as a private investigator in Alaska. She’s 5’1″ tall, carrires a scar that runs from ear to ear across her throat, and owns a half-wolf, half-husky dog named Mutt. Resourceful, strong-willed, defiant, Kate is tougher than your average heroine—and she needs to be, to survive the worst the Alaskan wilds can throw at her.  In this, her 21st adventure, Kate is recovering from a gunshot wound, enjoying some hard-earned solitude when some unwelcome visitors pass by, begging for Kate’s aid after discovering a heap of human bones on their trail. The intrepid Kate packs up the scanty remains, which a variety of animals have picked clean, and heads for the nearest town. But this case is much more deadly than a simple cold case.  2,000 people go missing in Alaska’s inhospitable terrain a year–is Kate about to become one of them?  Booklist loved this one as well, saying “Starting a Kate Shugak book is like going somewhere everybody knows your name, given the warmth and familiarity of the Niniltna cast, even to readers new to the series. The twenty-first series installment…maintains Stabenow’s reputation for concise prose, pithy dialogue, full bodied characters, and intriguing plotting. Crime fiction doesn’t get much better than this.”

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

The Stoker Award Winners!

We’re a little bit late with this news flash, dear readers, but that should not in any way mitigate your–or our–excitement over announcing the winners of the 2016 Bram Stoker A
wards, presented by the Horror Writers Association!

The Stoker Awards celebrate the best in horror writing across genres, from novels to short stories to non-fiction to poetry.  As Lisa Morton, President of the HWA (and multiple Stoker-Award Winner in her own right) observed, “The winners for this year’s awards unquestionably represent the continued high-level state of the art in horror writing…Our members and awards juries were dedicated to the selection process for outstanding works of literature, cinema, non-fiction, and poetry.”

The Stoker Awards also, arguably, have the coolest statues.  Seriously, look at this thing:


It’s a adorably terrifying haunted house, and the front door opens to reveal the plaque with the winner’s name and book title.  I don’t know of too many other awards that are not only so genre-specific, but interactive, as well, so big kudos to the HWA.

And now, without further ado, here are your list of winners!  A note: Some of these materials are from online or niche publishers, so wherever possible, we’ve provided Library links.  Where library links are not available, the Goodreads page has been linked:

Superior Achievement in a Novel

The Fisherman by John Langan

Superior Achievement in a First Novel

Haven by Tom Deady (<– Local author alert!)

Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel

Snowed by Maria Alexander

Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel

Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe by James Chambers

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction

The Winter Box by Tim Waggoner (ebook only)

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction

The Crawl Space” by Joyce Carol Oates (published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Volume #2016/Issue#8, but also in the anthology in the above link)

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection

The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror by Joyce Carol Oates

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay

The Witch by Robert Eggers

Superior Achievement in an Anthology

Borderlands 6, Edited by Thomas F. Monteleone and Olivia F. Monteleone

Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

Brothel by Stephanie M. Wytovich


Wednesdays @ West: Ten Ways to Explore American Treasures

If you aren’t a regular West Branch patron, you may be wondering where Wednesdays @ West has been over the past couple of months.  We’re on a bit of a hiatus because I, the author of these fabulous bi-weekly blog posts, have temporarily moved to the Main Library to serve as Interim Assistant Director until the library’s new permanent Director is hired.  But the gracious and wonderful staff member who oversees our blog is allowing me to still pop in occasionally when the spirit moves me.  So today, I bring to you a special Ten Ways to Explore a Book that focuses on American Treasures by Stephen Puleo.

As regular readers of this blog know, I am a bit of a history and political geek, so it’s unsurprising that I would be a fan of this book.  American Treasures charts the creation and little-known (but thrilling) journeys of America’s most priceless documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address.   Until reading American Treasures, I, like most people, was  unaware of all of the intriguing history behind our nation’s founding documents and the great lengths that Americans in times past have gone through to protect and defend them during times of national danger.  If you enjoy American Treasures as much as I did, I invite you to extend your reading experience in the following ways:

  1.  Come meet Stephen Puleo at the West Branch next Thursday, May 18th at 7pm.   Mr. Puleo will discuss American Treasures, answer questions and sign his books.  We’ll have his books for sale from Wicked Good Books in Salem.  If you plan to come, please let us know by signing up at our events calendar.
  2. In preparation for hearing Mr. Puleo speak or if you can’t attend, listen to his radio interview with WBUR about American Treasures.3. Read America’s founding documents.  It’s pretty much impossible to read American Treasures and not come away with a renewed understanding and appreciation for the importance of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and other documents that helped create or sustain the United States.  With all your newfound knowledge, you’ll want to explore, for the first or the tenth time, the actual text of these amazing pieces of history.  The National Archives website allows you to look at images of the originals and transcripts.

4.  American Treasures does a great job explaining the principles that guide the American Republic in the context of the Constitutional Convention debates.  To learn more about how these ideals influence the workings of democracy now and throughout the country’s history, watch one or more of the videos produced by the Bill of Rights Institute on the Constitutional Principles.

James Wilson. Image from the Constitution Center.

5. The  National Constitution Center is about to debut an exhibit which shares both a title and a subject with Stephen Puleo’s book.  If you’re going to be in the Pennsylvania area this summer, it sounds like the exhibit alone is worth a side trip.  If not, you can listen to a podcast about the roll that Pennsylvania’s native son, James Wilson, played in writing the Constitution.  Starting tomorrow, you can also explore the entire American Treasures exhibit interactively from the comfort of your home or library.

6.  FDR’s Librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish, played a crucial role in ensuring that America’s treasures were safely hidden and protected during the Second World War.  The details Puleo provides about MacLeish show what an interesting individual he was.  As it happens, our current Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, is a similarly cool American, who is worth reading about and perhaps, following on Twitter.

7. Speaking of the Library of Congress, it happens to be a real trove of American treasures.  If you’re heading to D.C., make sure the LOC is on your itinerary, but make sure you also check out the Library of Congress website so you can marvel at all that’s available.

8.  A trip to Pennsylvania or D.C. is not the only way to immerse yourself in the history of our founding era.  If you’d like a reminder of the role that Massachusetts played in the birth of the United States, take a stroll down the Freedom Trail on a nice day this spring.

9.  American Treasures recounts the fascinating battle over the upper house of Congress that took place during the Constitutional Convention.  None other than George Washington described the proper role of the United States Senate this way: “We pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”  The Senate is, in fact, an unusual legislative body with its own culture and set of norms.  To learn more about the Senate, take a trip over to the Edward Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston where you can assume the role of a Senator during your trip and debate legislation in a manner that would make Washington, Madison, and Franklin proud.

10.  Once you’ve soaked up your fill of information about the most important documents in the United State, you can further extend your fascinating historic knowledge by reading some of Stephen Puleo’s other narrative nonfiction: The Caning, Dark Tide,  A City So Grand, The Boston Italians and Due to Enemy Action.


Reading Without Walls

Like many of you, dear readers, I read a lot of books.  Moreover, I spend a lot of time reading things about books…indeed, some of the links on the left-hand side of this page will bring you to our favorite places on the internet for reading about books.

Some of these readings make me very happy, like the Children’s Book Council’s “Reading Without Walls” Initiative, which encourages younger readers to explore books of diverse voices, genres, and formats.  Here is the poster that the CBC produced for the challenge:

How cool is this?!  Helping readers to realize just how many options are available to them, how many voices, how many format, and how many genres, is a terrific way to foster a lifelong love of reading.  Moreover, studies have shown that reading, particularly reading fiction, helps build up empathy.  And Heavens knows that this world needs as many empathetic people as it can get.

I also really appreciate that this challenge also focuses on different formats of books.  I’ve written about my own struggles reading graphic novels, which I attribute, in large part to the fact that I didn’t realize they even existed until I was a lot older.  And as much as I hate to admit it, it is more difficult for an older brain to adapt to new stuff.  So getting readers’ minds and eyes (and ears!) adapted to as many formats as possible as early as possible ensures that they can enjoy All The Books as they continue to grow.

But the real importance of this project wasn’t driven home for me until I saw this article on BookRiot, entitled “A deep dive into Goodreads Top 100 Mysteries and Thrillers“, and discussed the diversity of the authors listed.  As you will see in the graph below, which we borrowed with respect from BookRiot, the Mysteries and Thrillers market is dominated by white men:

Now, I have a number of issues with Goodreads (much of which I blame on you, Amazon), which we can talk about in-depth later, but the gist of it is that their numbers, and especially their ratings, are seldom based on actual living-in-reality fact-based statistics.  If anyone followed the vicious, misogynistic movement to make the new Ghostbuster’s movie the lowest-rated on IMBD, you’ll know to what I am alluding here.  Indeed, Goodreads admitted this was a popularity contest, stating “every one of these books has at least a 4.0 rating from the Goodreads community.”  In order for a book to make it onto Goodreads’ radar like that, it has to be read by a lot of people (admittedly, who had to then have enjoyed their reading experiences–which is terrific.  Yay reading books you enjoy!)

But what we are actually seeing here is a reflection, not of the best books, but of market trends.  No one was asked “what is the best mystery book you ever read”.  Instead, the aggregate ratings of a website that is A) Owned by Amazon* B) Reliant on user input.  If you don’t have internet access or a Goodreads account, you can’t play this game.  More than likely, you are only going to list books read in the last decade or so.  I know that two of my favorite mysteries as a younger reader was The Westing Game and The Haunting of Cassie Palmerbut I never listed them on Goodreads because I didn’t get a Goodreads account until I was in my late 20’s, and if I tried to list all the books I had read to date at that time I’d have starved to death before I finished.

So what we have is a market that isn’t designed for people who are reading without walls.  And that’s where you come in.

Because while this survey can show us very broad changes over time–for example, that there are more authors of color on the list now than there were in 2000 (see the graph below)–it can’t show us how individual reading trends have changed.  If everyone and their mother and their father and their Aunt Rose are reading James Patterson, then the fact that Aunt Rose also went out and discovered Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season means nothing to Goodreads.  But I can guarantee you that it will mean something to Aunt Rose.  And I bet that being exposed to different cultures, different voices, different ways of telling stories, will mean something to you, too.

So come on into the Library and check out our “Reading Without Walls” Display for grown-up readers, and try something new.  I’ll be giving it a whirl, too, beloved patrons, so we can compare notes as we explore all the stories this big world (and even bigger universe!) has to offer!


*For the Record: There are aspects of Amazon that I think are terrific–namely, that they have opened the book world to millions of readers who live in book deserts, and opened an e-book market that has made reading (and writing) easier for millions more.  Amazon Smile also lets you donate to NOBLE, which is great.  However, it has also, and continues to do a lot of harm to authors, to independent bookstores, and to readers.  So while I respect the good the corporation has done, I’ll always be a wee bit skeptical of it.  

Making Magic: What the Heck is a FMV?

*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.

When given the opportunity to learn about something new, whatever it is, for better or for worse, I almost always say yes. Saturday was PILCON; the library’s first annual celebration of comic art, cosplay and animation; and in preparation for the big event I was invited to help judge the FMV/AMV Contest. For those not in the know, a FMV is a Fan Music Video and AMV stands for Anime Music Video. When invited to be a contest judge, I didn’t know what either one was or what the acronyms meant. No matter. I was curious, so I accepted the invitation to participate and I’m so glad I did.

FMV creators splice together clips from their favorite animated films and set them to music. The result is a music video that tells a story, sometimes a story that reflects the intent of the original film or films, and sometimes the clips are parsed together to convey the FMV artists’ own unique stories. Timing is key in FMVs. Clips are carefully set to the music to maximize emotional and visual impact whether it be funny, dramatic or uplifting, and in the case of some of the best FMVs, like some of our winners, you walk away with a completely new appreciation for something with which you thought yourself familiar. A great example is our Judges’ Choice winner, RD: ‘Oh, Action!’  (BasharOfTheAges / My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic / Imagine Dragons – “Radioactive”), which pairs clips from My Little Pony with the Imagine Dragons song Radioactive.

Shared for your viewing enjoyment, the following are the rest of our contest winners. Criteria for entry required that entries meet a rating category of no more than PG-13. Warning: Watching these videos will leave you with a growing list of animated films you want to see in their entirety.

#TalkSkatingToMe (Best Upbeat/Action)
Gina Nelson / Yuri!!! on Ice / Jason Derulo feat. 2 Chainz – “Talk Dirty”

A Better Place (Best Romance/Sentimental)
Studio le Croc (Maboroshi Studio + MomtoCutiePia + That’s so Pia) / Ponyo / Rachel Platten – “Better Place”

Waiting For Love (Best Drama)
Allegoriest / Steven Universe / Avicii – “Waiting For Love”

Assachusetts: A Wicked Good AMV (Best in Show)
shorisquared / Various sources / Funhaus – “MASSHOLES”

Our Adventures and Stories (Best Other)
joycescookie / Various Studo Ghibli films / Greek Fire – “Top of the World”

Saturdays @ the South: Getting Graphic with Kids

This week, dear readers, has been the 98th National Children’s Book Week. Children’s book week is the longest national literacy initiative in this country, begun in 1919. Though Children’s Book Week ends tomorrow, there are still plenty of ways to celebrate it.


Speaking of celebrations, today is also the Peabody Library’s first annual PILCON! This is an all-ages comicon that is completely free and utterly awesome. You can find a lot more information about PILCON on its events page and also on Kelley’s blog post about it earlier this week.

Given that PILCON is all ages and will be having programs that are suitable for kids, and given that it is still Children’s Book Week, I thought today would be a good day to celebrate the great things that are coming out of the graphic novels world for kids. Graphic novels are not all high-fantasy, manga or bound comic strips. This is an equally true statement for adults, teens and children. What many people don’t know is that we have our own graphic novels section for kids here at the South Branch that sometimes gets overlooked in the hunt for Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Captain Underpants. So here are some books from our kids’ graphic novel section that deserve a second (or first!) look from anyone, regardless of age.

Big Nate by Lincoln Pierce

These books are hugely popular here at the South and are ideal for kids who have blown through the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. These are episodic books ideal for short attention spans or quick reads as the “stories” only cover a few pages before moving on to the next one. Pierce originally published Big Nate as a newspaper and web comic strip, but the books are full-color and eye catching. Nate is a wisecracking 11-year old sure to delight kids in that age range or adults and teens looking for a lighthearted read.

Hilda by Luke Pearson

I LOVE the Hilda books. Hilda is a blue-haired girl who has an equal sense of compassion and adventure. Pearson balances real-life issues (feeling out of place , family struggles) with fantasy elements (trolls, talking birds, Hilda’s pet which is something like a small, antlered fox) and uses a muted color palette that convincingly create’s Hilda’s world. These are more of a classic graphic novel format with each story taking place over the course of the entire book, but I defy anyone not to be charmed.

Bone by Jeff Smith

This is a new-to-me series that is more fantasy but still fun. Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone are cousins who go on adventures through forests, foreign lands and townships, fighting dark forces, but getting help from friends along the way. These books are more plot-heavy but are beautifully illustrated with detailed characters and landscapes that draw the reader into the story and create convincing moods.

Unicorn Crossing by Dana Simpson

I’ve said before that Phoebe and her Unicorn is one of the best things to come into the comics world since Calvin and Hobbes and I meant it. I eagerly await each new installment of Phoebe and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils’s adventures which charm me and keep me laughing throughout. These have a similar setup to the Big Nate books, and are well worth reading.

Wile E. Coyote Experiments by Suzanne Slade & Mark Weakland

Not many people realize that there are some amazing non-fiction graphic novels (partly because graphic “novel” is a misnomer in these cases) out there both for adults and kids. These books are eye-catching, thin volumes that explain scientific principles in plain language and hilarious illustrations. If you’ve ever laughed at a Looney Tunes cartoon, these books are delightfully nostalgic and if you ever wondered about the principles behind Wile E. Coyote’s exploits (and spectacular failures), these are a must-read.

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

This book is beautiful, heartbreaking, wonderfully drawn and wonderfully told. It is a story of sisters, ghosts, love and acceptance in the face of difficulty and disease done in a more traditional novel format with panels and the entire book devoted to the story. The illustrations are colorful and do wonders to set the scene. This book is well worth the read by any adult as well as any older kid or teen.

Till next week, dear readers, enjoy as much of this unpredictable spring weather as possible, and check out PilCon. If you think you’ll like these selections I talked about today, there’s far more to discover!

The Green Carnation Book Prize

February 20, 1892, was the premiere for Oscar Wilde’s comedic play Lady Windermere’s FanIt’s a glorious, smart, subversive play that deals with gender assumption, class issues, love, trust, loyalty, and you should read it.  Or see it.  Or hear a recording of it (I really love this play, if you can’t tell…).

The play was an enormous success, but Oscar’s speech at the end (he was brought out on stage to be applauded, as well) may have actually been the most memorable part of the evening.  You can see a reproduction of it here, with Stephen Fry playing Oscar:

Anyways, for the premiere, Oscar arranged for one of the actors to wear a green carnation in his buttonhole.  He also gave carnations to his friends who would be attending, so that it would appear that a select number of audience members were in cahoots with the actors over the style.   Artist Graham Robertson was one of the people Wilde asked to wear the flower.  As the story goes, Robertson asked Wilde what the green carnation was supposed to mean.

“Nothing whatever,” Wilde replied, “but that is just what nobody will guess.”

The story is a good one, and definitely fits with Oscar’s love of gently mocking society at large for being ridiculous, but the truth was that there was a lot of meaning behind the green carnation.  Green was the symbol of Irish nationalism, and Oscar, an Irishman himself and a firm believer in the cause of Irish nationalism.  It was also the color of absinthe, a hallucinogenic drink that of which Oscar was particularly fond (you can still get it now, but it’s not a hallucinogen anymore…).  Finally, to Oscar, green was the color of artists–a green carnation is not natural.  You can’t grow them naturally.  They have to be created, with intention, and purpose.

Oscar Wilde was also a homosexual, and today, there are a lot of assumptions that the green carnation was a covert symbol of homosexuality.  It wasn’t–or, at least, it never seems to have been used as a symbol by Oscar himself to denote homosexuality (it was never referenced at his trials, and he himself never wrote a word about it, though he wrote about his carnations and the color green fairly often).  However, there were a number of people who mocked him (covertly and not-so-covertly), and stated that the green carnation was some kind of symbol of depravity.

Since that time, however, the green carnation has been adopted as a highly literary and rather esoteric reference to homosexuality, in deference to Wilde who, in many ways, defined what a homosexual man should look, act, and sound like.

Fast-forward to 2010, when author Paul Magrs, who also writes funny, charming, and very clever books, tweeted about the “scandalous lack of prizes for gay men” in the UK (<– Quoting the tweet there), and he and journalist Simon Savidge decided to set up just such a prize, they decided to name it The Green Carnation Prize. The Prize was originally awarded to the best fiction and memoirs by gay men.  In 2012 the prize opened its submission criteria to include all LGBT writers, in 2015 it widened its submission criteria even further including all ‘works of translation’.

Why is this important?  You might ask.
It’s important because human beings are herd animals.  We accept things are “right” when other people do them/think them/say them/wear them/eat them/sing them/dance with them/etc. first.  It’s why it’s so easy to do what everyone else is doing.  It’s why humans who do things alone, who are the first to say something or do something is such a momentous event.  Affirmation and validation and self-confidence are all wrapped up together in our cave-people brains.  And it’s really hard when you are a reader, to never read a book about people like you.  Whether the “people like you” have a certain skin color, speak a particularly language, practice a certain set of beliefs, looks a certain way, or loves a certain way, it’s enormously important to our self-understanding to know that there are other people “like us” somewhere in the world.

And, as tribal animals, who understand that taking care of our human tribe is as important as taking care of ourselves, we need to make sure that everyone can find a book in which they can find themselves, and feel like they belong.  It might not be a book that you yourself enjoy, or with which you identify–and that’s ok. We’ll find some.  Or we’ll write some.  Or maybe you’ll write them.  But the point is, the more we celebrate diversity in all its forms, the more diversity there will be.

So today, we bring you the Green Carnation Short List.  Where the books haven’t yet been released in the US, the WorldCat links are provided.  We can get these books for you, if you come in and ask!

The winner will be announced at Foyle’s Book Shop in London on May 22nd!

Courtesy of


"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass