It's a hard truth: there just isn't room in the newspaper for every book that deserves mention. We try, we really do, but we can't fit them all in. News gets in the way. And the funnies! And the TV grid. And apparently we must devote some column inches to sports.
So every so often, I like to highlight a few worthy books here on the blog, and this time of year I keep my eye out for gorgeous books that might be suitable for giving (to others, or to yourself). Here are three.
"Paul Chesley: A Photographic Voyage," by Paul Chesley (Goff Books, $60) celebrates 40 years of photography by Minnesota native Paul Chesley (he was born in Red Wing)--many of those years spent shooting for National Geographic. This big, coffee-table-sized book collects more than 300 color images--many a full page, or bigger--from exotic locales. These are not action shots of war, or images from busy urban life, but mostly are photos that look as though they could have been shot any time in the last 100 years: young monks in Cambodia, dancers in Thailand, horsemen riding past a mountain, native American women herding sheep in Arizona, bicyclists in Hanoi, mountains in the snow. So beautiful.
This series of annotated, illustrated classics from Harvard Press has become a lovely annual tradition. Over the years, the press has published annotated editions of "The Wind in the Willows," "Alice in Wonderland," "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (both annotated and uncensored!), and many others. Each one has been carefully and beautifully edited.The editors know what we like, though, and they have done more Jane Austen than they have anyone else; "Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition" is the press' fifth Austen book and is a worthy addition. It's gorgeous to look at, with moire endpapers, illustrations from various editions of the book (as well as photographs of objects of the time, and paintings of contemporary well-known people), and, of course, the intelligent and abundant annotations, by scholar Patricia Meyer Spacks of the University of Virginia. I particularly like one of the opening images--Jane Austen painted in 1802 by her sister, Cassandra. Jane is wearing a blue bonnet and is lifting her skirt above her ankles, perhaps to keep from getting muddy as she crosses a field. "The painting," notes Spacks, "evokes personality without rendering any facial feature of its subject."
The Folio Society treats books as works of art. In this case, the editors have taken the original 1872 edition of George MacDonald's fairy tale and commissioned illustrations by Romanian artist Madaline Andronic--only seven illustrations, but each a full page and steeped in colors, shapes and patterns that invoke the mysteries of Eastern Europe folklore: forests and bearded men and tulips and dreams.
MacDonald's story is about young Princess Irene and a miner boy, Curdie, who becomes her friend. Together, they must thwart the goblins that live underground, and who are plotting to kidnap Irene and take over the country. It's a rich, vibrant, mysterious tale, one of three notable books written by the Scottish author (and all mainstays of my childhood). The introduction is by Maria Tatar, Harvard professor and expert on folklore and fairytales. A perfect gift for a middle-grade or older child who loves to escape into a different world through books.
While you were out shopping on Saturday, doing your bit for small businesses and indie bookstores, the President was following your lead. He and his daughters popped into their local indie, Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., and hauled a pile of 21 books up to the counter.
Lots of worthy books in that stack, some of which were recommended by staff--everything from the classic "Harold and the Purple Crayon" to the much-admired "The Lowland," by Jhumpa Lahiri.
Also in the pile: "Flora & Ulysses," by Minneapolis writer Kate DiCamillo, which was on the long-list for the National Book Award, and "Heart of a Samurai," by Duluth writer Margi Preus, a Newbery Honor Book a couple of years back.
And, of course, "Wild," by McGregor native and UM grad Cheryl Strayed, which might make him officially the last person in the country to read that best-selling memoir.
Here's the full list, courtesy of the Washington Post, which credits the Christian Science Monitor, which credits the White House:
“Half Brother” by Kenneth Oppel
“Heart of a Samurai” by Margi Preus
“Flora and Ulysses” by Kate DiCamillo
“Jinx” by Sage Blackwood
“Lulu and the Brontosaurus” by Judith Viorst and Lane Smith
“Ottoline and the Yellow Cat” by Chris Riddell
“Moonday” by Adam Rex
“Journey” by Aaron Becker
“The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri
“Red Sparrow” by Jason Matthews
“Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson
“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra
“The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance” by David Epstein
“Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football” by Nicholas Dawidoff
“Ballad of the Sad Cafe: And Other Stories” by Carson McCullers
“My Antonia” by Willa Cather
“Ragtime” By E.L. Doctorow
“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
“Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka
“All That Is” by James Salter
“Wild: From Lost to Found On the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed
Graywolf Press publisher Fiona McCrae and executive editor Jeff Shotts were in the audience last night when poet Mary Szybist won the National Book Award for her Graywolf book, "Incarnadine," a collection of poems about the Annunciation.
Szybist thanked Graywolf, among others, in her brief, fervent acceptance speech, praising the press for handling her book with such care.
This is the first National Book Award won by a Graywolf author, though there have been finalists (Carl Phillips, Salvatore Scibona and Deborah Baker). Graywolf writers have won, in recent years, most major literary prizes, including the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, and the National Book Critics Circle award.
" ‘Incarnadine’ is a marvel of a book, about the many ways we encounter the world and the world encounters us,” Shotts, who edited "Incarnadine," said in an interview when the book was short-listed.
Other winners last night include "The Thing About Luck," by Cynthia Kadohata, for Young People's Literature; "The Unwinding," by George Packer, for Nonfiction; and "The Good Lord Bird," by James McBride, for fiction.
You can read five poems from "Incarnadine" on the Graywolf website here.
Twin Cities poet Matt Rasmussen was a finalist for "Black Aperture," his collection of poems about his brother's suicide. The book also won the Walt Whitman Award. Last night's ceremony was broadcast live on C-Span 2 and you can watch it on the National Book Foundation website here.
When last we blogged, Cambridge, Mass., writer Katherine A. Powers had tried to donate a copy of her new book, "Suitable Accommodations," to her hometown library and had been refused. Why do we care? Because her book is a collection of letters written by her father, Minnesota writer (and National Book Award winner) J.F. Powers.
Powers had noticed that the library system she had patronized for 40 years didn't own a copy--other Massachusetts library systems had the book in their collections, including Boston, but not Cambridge. So she brought a copy down to the library and offered it to them.
And they said no.
The reason, they said, was that they only accept donations of books that are on the New York Times best-seller list, and while the Powers book had been published by FSG and had been widely reviewed, it was not a best-seller.
The library director was out of town when all of this happened, and Monday was a holiday, and it wasn't until yesterday that the whole thing was resolved--more or less.
Powers and the director met, the director said that refusing the book had been a mistake, and that the staff member who had rejected the book had made a mistake. (But the library policy apparently says otherwise.)
In any case, the director agreed to now accept the donation of the book, but it was too late; Powers had already donated the book to a more willing library, the one in nearby Maiden, Mass.
So will the Cambridge library now pay to add a copy to its collection? Stay tuned for a possible Chapter Three...
Because we are Flyover Country, and thus aw-shucks dirt-kicking provincial, we are allowed to claim every author who not only was born here and lived here for a time (or lives here still), but also every author who was educated here, is here on fellowship, or who has summered up the Shore. (This would include Pat Conroy, whose sister lived in Minneapolis for awhile--he'd visit her, and then head up the Shore.)
We draw the line at including writers who have simply spent the night or changed planes at MSP International. We do have some pride.
So in that vein, we should all be bursting with pride at the number of Minnesota authors who have made it to the semi-finals in the annual Goodreads Best Books competition. There are perhaps overly many genres, but we won't argue with that--all the better for highlighting more and more books! (Though the books don't always seem to quite belong with the genre--is Colum McCann's "TransAtlantic" really "historical fiction"? And is Joyce Carol Oates' "The Accursed" really "horror"? Well, maybe.)
It should be no surprise that the busy and prolific Neil Gaiman is a finalist -- in three categories. (Fantasy, middle-grade and picture book.) Fortunately, because he lives in western Wisconsin and flies in and out of the Twin Cities, we get to claim him.
So. To the list. If you are a member of Goodreads (and it's easy to join, though controversial, since they were acquired by Amazon) you can vote. There are 25 semifinalists in each of 20 categories--a lot of books! Though some, such as Helene Wecker's highly praised "The Golem and the Jinni," are in multiple categories. (Fantasy, and Debut Novel.) (Wecker is a Carleton grad, and, thus, one of us.)
I'm not going to give you all the titles. You can find those yourself on Goodreads.com. But here are the Minnesota books (or Minnesota-tinged books). More than a million votes have been cast already, so it's quite impressive to make the seminfinals. Be proud!
Fiction: "The Orphan Train," by Christina Baker Kline. (She summers in Minnesota, and the book is partially set here.)
Mystery and thriller: "Ordinary Grace," by William Kent Kruger. (A resident of St. Paul.)
Fantasy: "The Golem and the Jinni," by Helene Wecker, and "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," by Neil Gaiman.
Nonfiction: "I Wear the Black Hat," by Chuck Klosterman. (Born here!)
Poetry: "Black Aperture," by Matt Rasmussen. "Incarnadine," by Mary Szybist (published by Minnesota's Graywolf Press). (We'll find out next week about the National Book Award -- both are in the running.)
Middle grade: "Fortunately, the Milk," by Neil Gaiman
Picture book: "Chu's Day," by Neil Gaiman.
Now go do your civic duty, and vote! Voting ends Saturday, and you can vote on the finalists beginning Monday. Good luck.
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