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On Books

Laurie Hertzel is senior editor for books at the Star Tribune, where she has worked since 1996.

E-books take it on the chin among college students

At the books editor's desk: A Kindle, and advance copies of books.

I'm fascinated by this NBC news story I saw posted today on Facebook. Naomi Baron, a linguistics professor at American University, surveyed more than 300 college students in the United States, Japan, Germany and Slovakia--now there's an interesting cross-section--and found that 92 percent of them prefer physical books to digital books.

This news gladdens my heart! (But is that the sentimental side of me talking?)

Lately I have been hauling my first-generation but still-functioning Kindle back and forth on the bus. It fits nicely in my backpack. It weighs almost nothing, even when I'm reading a big doorstopper of a book. I can find its nubby leather cover easily in my bag when I fish around for it. It keeps my place (usually). The battery lasts a long time. I can get e-galleys of books sent to it by publicists, and thus avoid the postage and the environmental burden of an Advance Reader Copy, which I will later recycle. I just finished reading Louise Erdrich's new novel, "LaRose," on yesterday's bus ride. This is probably a book I will want to buy for myself at some point, but for now it's nice not to have an ARC that I must dispose of.

And yet...and yet... I, too, prefer print. I'm sentimental about the feel of paper, the smell of bookstores, the existence of bookstores, the glowing, dusty presence of books lined up on wooden shelves in every room of my house.

I thought these feelings might be because I'm old, and maybe they are.

But this poll was of students, and the students feel the same way. 

"There are two big issues," the professor told the New Republic. "The first was they say they get distracted, pulled away to other things. The second had to do with eye strain and headaches and physical discomfort."

But also, she said, "They care about the smell of a book. ...There really is a physical, tactile, kinesthetic component to reading."

Students also noted that e-books are fine for casual reading but not for serious reading; I would agree. I could read Erdrich's book on my Kindle because I am not the person who will be reviewing it for the Strib; I read it out of interest but not with a serious critical eye. For reviewing, I need paper--paper that I can yellow highlight and slap post-it notes on and dog-ear the corners of pages. 

Again, the students concur. The New Republic wrote: "When students were given a choice of various media—including hard copy, cell phone, tablet, e-reader, and laptop—92 percent said they could concentrate best in hard copy."

I'd love to hear your thoughts. E-book? I-pad? Physical book? Different devices for different reasons? And why?

PEN announces short list for 2016 literary awards

Julie Iromuanya

Julie Iromuanya

PEN has announced the shortlists for the 2016 literary awards. Some of the winners will be announced March 1, and the rest will be announced April 11 at the awards ceremony at the New School in New York City.

Here are the finalists, with links to Star Tribune reviews, when available

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction ($25,000): 

In the Country: Stories (Alfred A. Knopf), Mia Alvar
The Turner House (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Angela Flournoy
Mr. and Mrs. Doctor (Coffee House Press), Julie Iromuanya
The Sympathizer: A Novel (Grove Press), Viet Thanh Nguyen
Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness (Europa Editions), Jennifer Tseng

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($10,000): 

After the Tall Timber: Collected Non-Fiction (New York Review Books), Renata Adler
Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau/Random House), Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Quarry (New Directions), Susan Howe
The Givenness of Things: Essays (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Marilynne Robinson
Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles (University of California Press), David L. Ulin

PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award ($10,000):

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History (Crown), Cynthia Barnett
The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World (W. W. Norton), Joel K. Bourne Jr.
The Boy Who Played with Fusion: Extreme Science, Extreme Parenting, and How to Make a Star (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Tom Clynes
Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future (Random House), Lauren Redniss
Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano That Changed the World (Pegasus Books), Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe

PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing ($5,000): 

Not a Game: The Incredible Rise and Unthinkable Fall of Allen Iverson (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster),Kent Babb
The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing with Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway's Ghost in the Last Days of Castro's Cuba (Picador), Brin-Jonathan Butler
The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph (Little Brown),Scott Ellsworth
Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty (Simon & Schuster), Bengie Molina with Joan Ryan
The Grind: Inside Baseball's Endless Season (Blue Rider Press), Barry Svrluga

PEN Open Book Award ($5,000): For an exceptional book-length work of literature by an author of color published in 2015. 

Chord (Sarabande Books), Rick Barot
Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books), Reginald Dwayne Betts
Forest Primeval: Poems (Triquarterly Books/Northwestern), Vievee Francis
Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey (W. W. Norton), Marie Mutsuki Mockett
Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape (Counterpoint), Lauret Savoy

PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography ($5,000): 

The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects (W. W. Norton), Deborah Lutz
Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art (Thames & Hudson), Nancy Princenthal
John le Carré: The Biography (Harper Books), Adam Sisman
Michelle Obama: A Life (Alfred A. Knopf), Peter Slevin
Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva (Harper Books),Rosemary Sullivan

PEN Award for Poetry in Translation ($3,000)

The School of Solitude: Collected Poems by Luis Hernández (Swan Isle Press), translated from the Spanish by Anthony Geist
The Late Poems of Wang An-shih (New Directions), translated from the Chinese by David Hinton
Rilke Shake by Angélica Freitas (Phoneme Media) translated from the Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan
I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky (Cleveland State University Poetry Center), translated from the Russian by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev
The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa (Canarium Books), translated from the Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu

PEN Translation Prize ($3,000): For a book-length translation of prose into English published in 2015

The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector (New Directions), translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson
The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Penguin Classics), translated from the Russian by Oliver Ready
The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov (Open Letter Books), translated from the Bulgarian byAngela Rodel
Hollow Heart by Viola Di Grado (Europa Editions), translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar

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