When you’re out shopping for books the Saturday after Thanksgiving (as of course you will be), do not be surprised if some of your favorite writers are manning the cash registers or tidying up displays. Walk up to them. Ask for a recommendation. That’s why they’re there.
Saturday, Nov. 30, is not just "Small Business Saturday," but it's also “indies first” day — a day when writers show support for independent bookstores by helping out for a few hours. Writer Sherman Alexie came up with the plan, which has been embraced by hundreds of authors across the country. ("Hello, hello, you gorgeous book nerds," his open letter begins.)
Lists are still being firmed up, but here’s what we know so far (and you can check the map to find out what's going on in your favorite store):
Chapter 2 Books in Hudson, Wis., Michael Norman and Stephanie Bodeen;
Red Balloon, Saint Paul: Debra Frasier, Nancy Carlson, Kurtis Scalleta, David LaRochelle, Brian Farrey, Lauren Stringer, John Coy
Addendum Books, Saint Paul (in a corner of SubText Bookstore): Dawn Klehr, William Alexander, Nancy Carlson, Catherine Clark, John Coy, Brian Farrey, Kevin Kling, Christopher Lincoln ("Billy Bones"), Mary Losure, Carrie Mesrobian, Chris Monroe, Laura Purdie Salas, Kurtis Scaletta, Pat Schmatz, Lauren Stringer, Stephanie Watson, Jacqueline West
Micawber's, Saint Paul: Peter Geye and Nicole Helget
Birchbark Books, Mpls: Heid Erdrich
Common Good Books, Saint Paul: Mary Losure and Sarah Stonich
Magers & Quinn, Mpls: Andy Sturdevant
SubText, Saint Paul: Sarah Stonich.
Valley Booksellers, Stillwater: Julie Kramer, Erin Hart, Colleen Baldrica, Stephanie Landsem, Charlie Quimby
Monkey See, Monkey Read in Northfield. Benjamin Percy
The Bookstore at Fitger's in Duluth: Erin Soderberg.
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 Amy Tan was a girl, her mother warned her to stay away from boys. “She said, Don’t let a boy kiss you because maybe you can’t stop. And then you’re gonna have a baby.” Her mother went on to enumerate all of the terrible things that happen to a girl when she has a baby, ending with, “You want to kiss a boy? You might as well just kill yourself right now!”
“And I thought, What was so good about it that you couldn’t stop?” Tan said.
It was a funny story, but one tinged with darkness, as were so many of the stories that Tan told on Wednesday night at Talk of the Stacks at the Central Library in Minneapolis. “When she told me this, I didn’t know that had had a first husband,” Tan said. “I didn’t know that she had three daughters living in China.”
Self-deprecating, elegant and fascinating, Tan mesmerized the crowd with her stories of family drama. And it was a true crowd, for sure--Pohlad Auditorium was filled, and guests packed into two overflow rooms, where they watched her on movie screens, and a handful more stood out in the atrium, listening to her on the speakers. Nearly 450 people showed up, one of the biggest crowds yet for the library’s popular program.
Tan read only briefly from her new book, “The Valley of Amazement,” and instead told stories about her mother and her grandmother--familiar figures to anyone who has read her novels. Her new book travels from China to the United States, following the lives of a courtesan and her daughter in the first half of the 20th century
While writing “Valley,” Tan kept two photographs on her desk: One of her mother, and one of her grandmother. Her mother left Shanghai in 1942 on a student visa, leaving behind an abusive husband and their three daughters. Tan never knew if her mother meant to abandon her children, but she was not allowed to return to China for 30 years. “My mother was impetuous, and passionate, and suicidal,” Tan said. “She taught me that I must always be independent.”
Tan’s grandmother was, she said, “a tragic figure. Spoiled. She married late, at 24, and her husband died in the 1919 Pandemic.” According to Chinese culture, she was supposed to remain a widow the rest of her life, but one night, when visiting a friend, she awoke to find a man in her bed. “There are two versions to the story,” Tan said. In one version, the man holds a knife to her grandmother’s throat and says, “If you don’t marry me, I will kill you.” In the other version, he holds a knife to his own throat and says, “If you don’t marry me, I will kill myself.”
Tan’s grandmother married him and worked out a deal: If she bore him a son, he would buy her a house in Shanghai. She bore him a son, he reneged on his part of the bargain, and she killed herself, leaving behind Tan’s mother, who was then 9 years old.
When writing “Valley,” Tan said, she entered the world of her grandmother, but the book is not about her grandmother. “It does have a lot to do with the themes in my family--betrayal, abandonment, passionate women, suicidal women, impetuous women, and love, love, love.”
“Valley” is her first novel in eight years, and Tan joked that “the best thing about finishing it is people no longer ask when’s your book going to come out. The worst thing is they ask why it took so long.”
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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