Last week, 21 of the 32 finalists for the Minnesota Book Awards gathered at the Loft in Minneapolis to pitch their books to a happy crowd. Each writer got five minutes to talk, in hopes of getting people to vote for them in the "readers' choice" division.

I have to say, I fell in love with just about all of them. They were clever, they were funny, they were moving, and the photographers and illustrators had great visual aids.

Duluth poet Connie Wanek was modest and brilliant; she read two short poems that told stories and brought pictures to mind and then sort of flew around inside my brain.

Peter Bognanni, author of "The House of Tomorrow," was so funny we were all falling off our chairs.

And children's author Jacqueline West read from "The Books of Elsewhere, Volume 1: The Shadows" -- the first novel in her spooky series -- with so much verve that her voice took on the personalities of her character, Olive, and of Olive's supremely confident talking cat.

The evening was a great reminder of what a fertile place Minnesota is for writers. You can vote for your favorite nominee (until the end of March) at And even if you don't care to vote, that's a great place to poke around and look for something to read. The winners will be announced April 16.


•"A Room Where the Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard," by Levy Hideo, will be published in July by Columbia University Press. The novel, originally written in Japanese, was translated into English by Christopher Scott, an assistant professor of Japanese and Japanese literature at Macalester College in St. Paul.

•"Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids: The One Brain Book You Need to Help Your Child Grow Brighter, Healthier, and Happier " by David Walsh, will be published in June by the Free Press. Walsh is founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family in Minneapolis.

Marya Hornbacher's new book, "Waiting: A Nonbeliever's Higher Power," will be published by Hazelden Books in June. Hornbacher, who lives in Minneapolis, is the author of two previous memoirs and a novel.

•"Environmental Politics and the Creation of a Dream: Establishing the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore," by Harold C. Jordahl Jr. and Annie L. Booth, will be published in May by the University of Wisconsin Press.

•"Coffee -- Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate," co-edited by Scott Parker of Minneapolis, has been published by Wiley-Blackwell. The book is a compilation of essays about the history, flavor and ethics of coffee and coffee drinking.