As I write this, we are two days away from the deadline for nominations for the PNBA Book Awards and five days out from our Committee meeting at the Fall Show to start the process of winnowing down the list. Well, winnowing it down further. We’ve already eliminated nearly seventy titles, which leaves us with a mere 160 yet to debate. But, that 160 doesn’t include anything that arrives between now and Wednesday, so we can probably safely assume that there are 200 titles for us yet to get through. It’s a lot of reading, but we’re up to it. Mostly.
The Awards Committee will be doing something new this year and giving a little presentation of some of our favorite titles. Each Committee member will present one title that s/he feels is Award-worthy at the Fall Show for our fellow booksellers. But, I’m greedy and I have a forum, so I’m going to tell you all about some of my favorite nominees thus far. Keep in mind that I’m only one of nine Committee members, so my love only counts for 11%-ish of the total vote. It’s possible that none of my beloved titles will even make the short list, much less the winners’ list.
Here, then, in no particular order, are the titles nominated for a PNBA Book Award that I am personally championing.
Unicorn on a Roll by Dana Simpson: Yes, it’s a graphic novel about a girl and her unicorn and, because of that, I fear that it’s chances at an Award are less than they should be. But, I want each and every one of you to pick it up and read the spelling bee scene (pages 68 through 73) and then look me in the eye and tell me this book isn’t smart and clever. You can’t. Okay, maybe you can, if you’re a very good liar.
seveneves by Neal Stephenson: A big, chunky science fiction novel that is about as different from Dana Simpson’s work as can be imagined, but it’s completely absorbing and its nearly 900 pages just flew by for me. And I feel like a book of this length should have more said about it, but I either keep this brief, or I go on for ages and pages about it and I’m sure we’d all prefer I keep it brief.
Children and Other Wild Animals (and the impossibly long subtitle) by Brian Doyle: I have friends who seem to bestow upon Brian Doyle the same slavish adoration that 14-year-old me bestowed upon Duran Duran. I, however, didn’t get it. His style just didn’t work for me. Until this book. Doyle’s poetic stream-of-consciousness style works wonderfully for me in short essays. While I may not become one of his devotees, I do, at last, see where the love is coming from.
The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart: I resisted reading this book for a long time because it involves mountain climbing and I am not a fan of outside or outdoor pursuits because I’m pretty sure that Nature wants nothing more than to kill us all in horrible ways. And, now, I have other reasons for wishing I hadn’t read it, namely that I started getting misty-eyed on page one and was full-on weeping by the end. This is a really good emotional gut-punch of a middle grade novel. (And, spoiler, because I wish someone had told me: <spoiler>The dog is fine</spoiler>.)
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: This was the biggest surprise on the list for me. I’ve read a couple of Kristin Hannah books in the past and they just never quite did it for me. At its heart, this book was the kind of deeply emotional family story that Ms. Hannah is known for, but setting it in France during the Nazi Occupation allowed her the freedom to delve even deeper into the subjects of choice and consequences. When every decision can literally be one of life of death, there is less chance for drama to slip over the line into melodrama. I’ve written before about how All the Light We Cannot See lacked any kind of emotional punch for me. Hannah’s novel, on the other hand, kept me emotionally invested and had me crying long before the end–and more than once. To me, that made it a better book.
I haven’t included everything I’ve loved here because some of my fellow Committee members will be presenting them at the Fall Show and because we want to keep some surprises in store for you. (My personal pick for our Show presentation isn’t here, but I’ve written about it elsewhere on NW Book Lovers and anyone who has spoken to me since the beginning of the year has probably gotten an earful about it.) (And, my apologies to Madison (Butler) Duckworth for stealing a little of her Kristin Hannah thunder, but I couldn’t resist sharing how pleasantly surprised I was by it. Forgive me?)
Billie Bloebaum is currently using most of the books nominated for the PNBA Book Awards as an ersatz coffee table and an excuse to use the word “ersatz”. If no one sees her at the Fall Show, please send someone around to make sure she hasn’t been crushed beneath the teetering piles.