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2012 Massachusetts Book Award Winners

Winners of the 2012 Massachusetts Book Awards were announced on Friday!Massachusetts Book Award seal

Fiction
Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

Nonfiction
Killer Stuff and Tons of Money
by Maureen P. Stanton

Poetry
The Trouble Ball by Martin Espada

Children’s/YA
Chasing the Nightbird by Krista Russell

Visit the Massachusetts Center for the Book for details about the winners and about the 12 Must-Read titles in each category.

Follow Massachusetts Center for the Book (@massbook) on Twitter and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/masscenterforthebook.

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More Speed Dating with Must-Read MassBook Authors, Part 2

Speed dating with the Must Read Massachusetts Authors at the Massachusetts Library Association conference on Wednesday, May 9, was so much fun. Six of the authors whose books have been selected as finalists for Massachusetts Book Awards in one of four categories (Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Children’s/Young Adult) had just 4½ minutes at six different tables crowded with librarians to get each group excited to read their books.

Photo of the six authors

L to R: Laura Harrington, Diana Gordon, Kimberly Marcus, Jef Czekaj, Lawrence Vincent, and Leonard Rosen

Book cover image of All Cry Chaos

Leonard Rosen drew on his academic and nonfiction writing background to write his first literary thriller.

Leonard Rosen‘s experience in teaching writing classes at Bentley University and Harvard University came through as soon as he sat down and hooked the attention of the classroom table with a show-and-tell. “The idea for All Cry Chaos came to me when I was on a flight from Boston to L.A. and looked out the window and saw this,” he said, showing the group a enlarged aerial photograph of ridge lines branching out from a main trunk in a dry desert landscape. Flipping through a succession of photos of hands, bloodshot eyes, trees, and a cabbage leaf (“even my appetizer at dinner”) he explained how he began to notice a similar pattern all over the place. “It made me wonder, ‘Is there a Pattern-maker?’ That is to say, ‘Is there a God?’ And that is the question the character in my book takes on.” His main character, Henri Poincaré, is close to retirement as an Interpol agent when a prominent mathematician/Harvard professor is dramatically murdered at the World Trade Organization meeting in Amsterdam. Poincaré gets drawn into the victim’s complex theories and mathematical discoveries to solve the case.

Cover image of book Nightly, at the Institute of the Possible

D.M. Gordon’s book is from Hedgerow Press, a new poetry imprint from Levellers Press in Western Mass.

Somewhat sadly, Diana Gordon, whose second collection of poetry has the intriguing title Nightly, at the Institute of the Possible, had to endure a moment of awkward silence when she sat down and asked the group at the table: “Do you like to read poetry?” When no one answered, however, she smoothly segued into the relationship of authors and librarians (“Writers need libraries and libraries need writers.”) and read a short poem from her book. She suggested offering poetry readings at the library where people would read and discuss other people’s poems, not just share their own poetry, and that librarians would not have to be poetry experts to facilitate a group like this. She herself facilitates a weekly poetry discussion group at the Forbes Library in Northampton.

Photo of Jef Czekaj

Jef Czekaj of Somerville explaining how he came to write and illustrate  the children’s book, A Call for a New Alphabet.

Jef Czekaj is a cartoonist, children’s book author/illustrator, and a D.J. He uses his real name for his writing and illustrating (“Czekaj” is pronounced CHECK-eye,) but D.J.s under a pseudonym. His Must-Read children’s picture book, A Call for a New Alphabet, is about an exasperated letter X. Jef took the confessional approach at our table, announcing straightaway, “I was a linguistics major, and when I graduated, I realized I couldn’t do anything with my linguistics degree.” Luckily, he found an artistic niche that also allows him to use his fondness for language. His books Hip and Hop, Don’t Stop!, Cat Secrets, and The Circulatory Story were all Junior Library Guild selections.

See the previous post, More Speed Dating with Must-Read MassBook Authors, Part One, for the speed-dating skinny on Kimberly Marcus, author of the YA novel Exposed; L.M. Vincent, author of the quirky microhistory In Search of Motif No. 1; and Laura Harrington, author of Alice Bliss.

All six of the Must-Read authors were friendly and engaging to talk with, and all were open to a second date, i.e. being invited to libraries to speak. The full list of Must Read authors will be posted by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and all Massachusetts libraries will be receiving a copy of the poster showing all of the Must Read titles.

Photo of Must-Read Books Banner 2012

Must-Read Books selected by Massachusetts Book Awards judges

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More Speed Dating with Must-Read MassBook Authors, Part 1

Authors wait as they are introduced

Authors appear a little nervous waiting for their first table assignments.

Speed Dating with the Authors sponsored by the Massachusetts Center for the Book was a big hit for the second year in a row, with over a hundred attendees on the opening day of the Massachusetts Library Association conference. Twelve finalists for Massachusetts Book Awards have been selected as Must Reads in each of four categories – Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Children’s/Young Adult. Six intrepid Must-Read authors agreed to take part in matchmaking with a roomful of librarians eagerly looking for their newest favorite book. All of the authors were great sports about being rotated around the six packed tables to talk about their books, their writing process, and themselves.

Photo of Kimberly Marcus

Author Kimberly Marcus drew on her knowledge as a clinical social worker to write Exposed, her first YA novel.

The action of Kimberly Marcus‘s first young adult novel, Exposed, set in Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, begins when 16-year-old Liz – a gifted photographer – learns that her brother is accused of raping her best friend. How did she come to write the entire novel in free verse? A friend suggested writing a scene she was stuck on as a poem to get unstuck. That advice helped her get unstuck, and later on, it helped again. That’s when she realized “the idea of snapshots and verse really worked” and she wrote the whole book that way. Kimberly Marcus has also written a children’s picture book, Scritch-Scratch A Perfect Match. A North Dartmouth resident, she lives near the beach and has set Exposed in a fictional town on the Cape.

Cover image of In Search of Motif No. 1

In Search of Motif No. 1 by L. M. Vincent

L.M. Vincent’s “quirky” new book, In Search of Motif No. 1: The History of a Fish Shack, intrigued librarians with its eye-catching cover art and Rockport theme. Comfortable with an audience, Lawrence Vincent (a multi-talented humorist and playwright, as well as radiologist in a Boston hospital) talked about how he came to write about the iconic Cape Ann shack lost in the Blizzard of ’78 and later rebuilt. “I didn’t even know what a fish shack was when I moved to Massachusetts,” he said, but he became curious about the proliferation of paintings and photographs – good and bad – with the shack as their subject. Researching the “truly fabulous pieces” that came out of the heyday of the artists’ colony there (1920-1946) led him to write the history of the shack, which is, he says, “in many ways, the history of small-town America.”

Blurry photo of Laura Harrington

Alice Bliss, Laura Harrington’s first novel, is getting a lot of buzz.

Laura Harrington, author of Alice Bliss, her first novel, is also a playwright. She made instant friends at the table I was at by sitting down and declaring, “Librarians are my favorite people.” A Gloucester resident and native of Rochester, New York, Laura said that her own family’s history (Her father fought in World War II and her two brothers in Vietnam) led her to write about the war in Iraq. “I want to get people thinking about the war,” she said, “but I hope the book will also get people thinking about a girl. Alice Bliss, centered around a 15-year-old daughter’s relationship with her father, is about the Iraq War but is “really a classic coming-of-age story,” she said. Alice Bliss has also been named a Best Adult Book for Teens by School Library Journal.

All six of the authors were friendly and engaging to talk with, and all were open to a second date, i.e. being invited to libraries to speak. Part Two of this blog post will talk about Jef Czekaj, author/illustrator of A Call for a New Alphabet; D. M. Gordon, author of the poetry collection Nightly, at the Institute of the Possible; and Leonard Rosen’s literary thriller All Cry Chaos.

Photo of Must-Read Books Banner 2012

Must-Read Books selected by Massachusetts Book Awards judges

The full list of Must Read authors will be posted soon by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and all Massachusetts libraries will be receiving a copy of the beautiful poster that premiered at the Speed Dating with the Must Read Authors yesterday.

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Roots and Root Causes: Faith by Jennifer Haigh (Audio)

Jennifer Haigh writes the kind of thought-provoking, character-driven novel (see Mrs. Kimble, Baker Towers, and The Condition) that I love to settle down with and read…imperfect families, societal roles, the conflicting pulls of love and duty, passion and personal responsibility, etc. But I’m also always looking for great audiobook recommendations, so when I saw this rave at You’ve Gotta Read This, I decided to listen to the audio version of Jennifer Haigh’s latest novel Faith (HarperCollins, 2011). A good choice!
Narrated by Therese Plummer, Faith is a novel in the form of a memoir of sorts. In it, Sheila McGann has pieced together stories of people involved in her brother Art Breen’s life, past and present — some remembered, some imagined, some told to her. As in all of Jennifer Haigh’s novels, every character has depth and emotional complexity. A lot of painful feelings (shame, anger, sorrow) and, occasionally, joy or contentment run underneath these characters’ stories; Therese Plummer conveys this very well in her narration.
Sheila’s brother Art (12 years older than Sheila, her mother’s son from a early, annulled marriage) had been a parish priest in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston for many years when the clergy sex abuse scandal broke over the Boston area in 2002 like a storm across Grantham (a fictional working-class, South Shore, harbor town modeled on Hull, Massachusetts), where the Irish-Catholic McGann family lived. When Art himself is accused of molesting a child, the small McGann family (never close) is devastated and divided.
Much about Art’s faith and life in the priesthood remains a mystery to Sheila, a non-practicing Catholic, even after she works out the truth about events leading to his suspension and public disgrace. Sheila McGann loves and respects her brother, although she doesn’t share his faith, but how well does she really know him.
Faith is more about a family in crisis than it is about religion or the Catholic Church. (Although the leaders of the Boston archdiocese and St. John’s Seminary are the closest thing to a villain you will find in this book, they are presented as flawed individuals within an institution, not as evil pedophiles.) Faith and religion certainly play a role in the novel, but they are presented almost neutrally; no one’s religious faith is belittled or praised. Author Jennifer Haigh conveys sympathy for victims of abuse without demonizing all Catholic priests.
My only quibbles with the audiobook narration are that a couple of local place names were mispronounced and the broad Boston accents on a few of the characters (especially Sheila’s mother) sounded a bit overdone to me. (We don’t really sound like that around heah, do we?) But they are really just quibbles, because, over all, the narration — even of the male voices, which can be difficult for a woman to pull off — was excellent.
Faith is one of the best books I’ve read in 2011, hands down. It’s true, You’ve Gotta Read This!

Preview the audiobook at HarperCollins.
Therese Plummer talks about Faith as the best book she’s ever narrated on the Audible Web site.

Other opinions about Faith (all good):
Age 30+: A Lifetime of Books
Bibliophile by the Sea
Devourer of Books
My Books. My Life
nomadreader

This Must Be the Place for Great Books: Massachusetts Must-Reads

A friendly summer challenge from the Massachusetts Center for the Book: Read and discuss the 12 Must-Read titles in each category (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children’s/YA) before winners are announced in the fall.
The Must-Read lists are beautiful! You can print them and take them into the library or local bookstore, or post them as reminders that Massachusetts has champion writers as well as sports teams.

Book lists from the Massachusetts Center for the Book:

Print Version of Must-Read Fiction 2011
Print Version of Must-Read Nonfiction 2011
Print Version of Must-Read Poetry 2011
Print Version of Must-Read Children’s/Young Adult Literature 2011

I’m in the middle of This Must Be the Place, a first novel by Kate Racculia, an Emerson College grad living in Boston, and will be posting to the MassBook Facebook discussion REALLY soon.

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.

The Postmistress & Blackout

The heroism of Londoners as they took shelter during nightly bombing raids and carried out their business in as close an approximation to usual as possible during the day quickly become legendary. Two recent novels — The Postmistress and Blackout — give readers a sense of how it might have been to live through the London Blitz, while Americans were divided on what to do.

Given a big publicity boost by Katherine Stockett, author of The Help, The Postmistress by Sarah Blake will be popular with the same readers, but has the added bonus for us of a Massachusetts connection. Confident and strong, Iris James is the postmaster (not postmistress) in the fictitious Cape Cod town of Franklin in 1940, where Emma Fitch has just moved to join her husband, a young doctor. Country after country is falling to the Germans, President Roosevelt is promising Americans their boys are “not going to be sent into any foreign wars,” and plucky radio correspondent Frankie Bard is bucking male chauvinism in broadcasting, reporting heartrending stories of the Blitz that bring the war home to American listeners.

If you’re an audiobook reader, try The Postmistress on audio, narrated by Orlagh Cassidy. (The only problem with an otherwise excellent audio version is that the characters with broad Boston accents sounded more like Mainers to me.) Like The Help, The Postmistress is a good story, grounded in American history, with strong female characters, and many poignant moments.
Read The New York Times review of The Postmistress here.

Blackout, the new book by science fiction author Connie Willis, is also about the London Blitz and other historical turning points in England during World War II.
Set in the same time-travel universe as The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout’s storyline is continued in All Clear, which isn’t coming out until fall. (!) Readers will have to wait to find out what happens to the time-traveling young historians in Blackout, whose cautiously laid plans for safe travel in and out of London and surrounding areas during crucial periods in World War II history have gotten them in to observe the casual heroism of ordinary Brits, but aren’t working to get them — ordinary historians now in crisis themselves — back to their own time.
Read The Washington Post review of Blackout here.
Check availability of Blackout in the OCLN catalog here.

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