Back in February, I bought my ticket for the Gala celebration of the MN Book Awards, which are held in April every year. Last year I had gone for the first time. This year, I wanted to be a little more prepared. And I wanted to vote intelligently in the Readers' Choice Award, for which they asked that you read all the Finalists.
I had a head start. I had already read several of them. Some of them I had written reviews on, such as The Opposite of Cold and News to Me, as the Minneapolis Books Examiner. Another, North Country, I had reviewed for the Star Tribune. I had already read The Tale of Halcyon Crane, after meeting Wendy Webb at the Twin Cities Book Festival, and I mentioned that in my Halloween Reading column.
But others weren't even released yet, especially the YA selections. I couldn't get my hands on a copy of Blank Confession by Pete Hautman, or Hamster Magic by Lynne Jonell. But I did snap up Split by Swati Avasthi ? and was up late, finishing it in just one night. And not because it was “just” a YA novel. But because it was so gripping and compelling, I had to find out what happened next. The Books of Elsewhere series by Jacqueline West turned out to be a delightful surprise ? why has this book not been shouted from the rooftops?
My attentions were then turned to some of the other finalists. What about that beautiful nonfiction pictorial essay book, Paddle North by Greg Breining? I even brought it on vacation to St. Louis to show my father-in-law. I didn't get to The Assassination of Hole in the Day by the brilliant Anton Treuer, but I had The Opposite of Cold under my belt, by those 'sauna guys,' as I mention above. The only one in this category, General Nonfiction, that I missed was The Nature of College by James J. Farrell. Sorry, been there, done that.
In the children's section of the Minneapolis Central Library, I picked up a copy of My Heart Is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall ? a beautiful, colorful ingenius fun look at animals, all made out of heart shapes. Clever! I did not get to any of the other Children's Literature, though.
But I did completely wipe out the Genre Fiction category. I reviewed Silencing Sam by Julie Kramer last August. The Taking of Libbie, SD had a unique twist, by David Housewright, but I liked his earlier Jelly’s Gold better. Vermilion Drift was the first I had read by oft-touted William Kent Krueger. He does interesting things with Native American culture and the story was compelling. The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb was creepy in places, but wonderfully imagined.
I thought I'd master the Memoir and Creative Nonfiction category, as that is my chosen area of writing, but I had only been able to read News to Me by Gala time. I'm not sure if I'll get back to read Carrier: Untangling the Danger in My DNA by Bonnie J. Rough or She Looks Just Like You by Amie Klemnauer Miller. I did thumb through Crossing the Barriers: The Autobiography of Allan H. Spear. But will likely not get back to that, not my cup of tea.
In the Minnesota category, I managed North Country by Mary Lethert Wingerd (due to the earlier review mentioned above) and the completely addictive We’re Gonna Win, Twins! by Doug Grow. Clearly not written about this current season (yet ? but we're not giving up) but so interesting and well written that I bought a copy for my son, the sports nut. Somehow I missed Prairie, Lake, Forest by Chris Niskanen, with photography by Doug Ohman. And yeah, I missed This Is Not Florida by Jay Weiner. Sue me, politics is not my thing.
The Novel and Short Story category was a hard fight. I have only read one of them, Vestments by John Reimringer, but I have heard such good things about the others, they are definitely on my list. Much has been written about Dogfight, A Love Story by Matt Burgess, The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni and Losing Camille by Paul Kilgore. What a tough category.
And finally, the ethereal Poetry candidates, including Find the Girl by Lightsey Darst, which I had already read. But I didn't get to Sin Eater by William Reichard, On Speaking Terms by Up North poet Connie Wanek and Dreaming Man, Face Down by Mark Conway. The poetry books are harder to find.
I'm not giving away the winners. You'll have to sweat it out like the rest of us did. It was hard reading all the finalists. You really have to work at it. I eschewed my book club selections for three months, incurring the wrath and derision that entails. I was up late, slacking on my work reading and missing countless hours of crappy TV. Or wait, I guess that's the good part.
So many good writers in Minnesota. And I have yet to read them all. But I'm making a valiant attempt. You should try it.