Speed Dating with the Must-Read MassBook Authors

Speed Dating with Must-Read Massachusetts Authors, sponsored by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, was a great event at this year’s Massachusetts Library Association Conference. Twelve Must-Read titles in each award category (Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Children’s/Young Adult) have been selected as finalists for this year’s Massachusetts Book Awards. Winners will be announced at the end of the summer.
Putting a twist on the usual “listen to authors speak and then strain to hear audience members ask inaudible questions” program, Speed Dating with Must-Read Massachusetts Authors allotted each of eight authors four (4!) minutes and four minutes only at the podium, to drop tantalizing details about his or her new book. Then the authors rotated around the room to talk for four minutes with audience members at each of eight tables.
All of the Must-Read authors at this event got high marks for being good sports and cheerful, patient conversationalists. (Figurative high marks, that is. We weren’t really awarding points.) Some highlights:

Fiction
The Quickening by Michelle Hoover. Author Michelle Hoover said this novel has been called the Anti-Little House on the Prairie for its depiction of women’s lives on hardscrabble Midwest farms in the early 1900s. The author researched so well that when she read her description of milking a cow, we in the audience thought she must have grown up doing it. One of the poetry judges who happened to be at my table commented that the excerpt the author read aloud describing the milking of a cow was pure poetry.

Safe from the Neighbors (Knopf, 2010) by Steve Yarbrough. Author Steve Yarbrough, an Emerson College professor, takes the bare bones of actual events from his Mississippi childhood, including the death of friend’s mother during a night of rioting, and constructs a richness of imagined detail around them for this novel (his eighth book.) Read The Washington Post book review here. The author’s calm, pleasant demeanor and soft Southern accent won over the group at my table.

This Must Be the Place by Kate Racculia. In her first novel, set in upstate New York, author Kate Racculia launches the story by having a young widower discover (in a shoebox of keepsakes) a postcard his wife wrote but never mailed, to a person he’s never heard of : “Mona, I’m sorry. I should have told you. Anyway, I left you the best parts of myself. You know where to look.” Looking way too young to have a novel published, the author lives in Boston, Mass., has the cutest Web site and a great smile!


Nonfiction
& Poetry
The Great Penguin Rescue by Dyan deNapoli. Did you know there were penguins in South Africa? I didn’t, until I heard “The Penguin Lady” talking about her experience teaching 75,000 volunteers how to rescue, clean, and release 19,000 penguins after an oil spill off the coast of Africa. The author is an enthusiastic speaker, an accomplished scientist, and seemed like a good person to have along on any emergency rescue mission.

Had Slaves by Catherine Sasanov. Poet Catherine Sasanov lives in Jamaica Plain, and always knew about her Southern ancestry. What had never been passed down in the family lore was that her great-great-great-grandfather in Missouri had owned slaves. This book of poetry comes out of her research trying to trace the lives of those eleven African-American men, women, and children from scanty records and family papers.

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. Almost all the copies of this book about people who hoard stuff got snapped up at the speed dating event. Is that significant? Do all those librarians have piles of books, magazines, and newspapers covering every inch of furniture and floor space in their houses? (Just kidding…) Co-author Gail Steketee good-naturedly endured our jokes, probably the same at every table, and explained how hoarding is actually a serious mental illness, afflicting young and old, that stems more from a difficulty in parting with stuff than from the desire to have more stuff. Read The Washington Post‘s review here.

Young Adult Fiction
The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork. The Boston author of young adult novels  Marcelo in the Real World and Behind the Eyes, as well as an adult novel The Way of the Jaguar, Francisco X. Stork told us that he was born in Mexico and came with his family to El Paso, Texas when he was nine. By calling the main character in The Last Summer of the Death Warriors Pancho Sanza, and Pancho’s best friend, D.Q, he pays homage to Don Quixote, which he said is one of his favorite books, often reread. Check out the author’s crisp and professionally done Web site, even if just to see the flashy way the book cover appears on the screen.

The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith. This Massachusetts author wooed our table with chocolate and bookmarks, which, of course, made us all love her, but we were also intrigued by her excitement in telling us more about her first young adult novel, set in Boston, which has a ghost story, interracial teen romance, and elements of historical fiction. The Other Side of Dark is told in the teens’ different voices, and you may sample the book on the author’s Web site. Sarah Smith is the author you want with you on any date that involves scary stories told around a campfire with a flashlight illuminating the storyteller’s face.

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