Obviously, this is not actually a musical, but it got your attention, didn’t it?
First, I would like to thank the other eight members of this year’s PNBA Book Awards Committee of booksellers: Michael Coy, Madison (Butler) Duckworth, Tim Hunter, Dianah Hughley, Tina Ontiveros, Carol Spurling, Casey Stryer, and Claudia Wohlfeil. This was my third (and final) year on the Committee and my second as chair and I would like to send an especial thanks to Tina, Claudia, and Madison who all started their terms with me and read their way through three years’ worth of nominees like bookselling rockstars. And best wishes to those Committee members continuing on through next year (and beyond). I can’t wait to see the lists you come up with.
Now that that’s out of the way, on with the show.
Starting back in March, the members of the PNBA Book Awards Committee started receiving books to be considered for the 2016 Award. It began as a trickle and our newest members probably thought to themselves, “Well, this isn’t bad. I can do this.” Then the months progressed. Summer arrived and the packages were coming daily, often more than one. By the time the final nominations had been submitted we were facing a good 200 books. By the time we had eliminated titles that were ineligible for whatever reason, we were still looking at a list of 174 titles.
On Saturday, October 3rd, we met face-to-face as a Committee for the first and only time (excepting Casey, who was unable to attend the Fall Show this year). By the time we walked out of the conference room, we had whittled the list down to 98 titles still in contention. On October 23rd, we had our first conference call (with Casey this time, thank goodness). By the time we had all hung up, we had the list narrowed down to a mere 40 titles still in contention. (Yay, us!) We had our second and (thankfully) final conference call on November 6th. After an hour of discussion and reassigning of points and occasional digressions and tomfoolery, we had reached consensus on a shortlist. Here, then, ladies and gentlemen (and everyone else), are the twelve finalists for the 2016 PNBA Book Awards, alphabetically by author.
Weed the People by Bruce Barcott. This was Claudia’s pick for our presentation at the Fall Show. It’s an engaging personal account of the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado and is full of fascinating glimpses into the various personalities who make “weed culture” so diverse.
The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough: This was my favorite book of all the nominees and one of my absolute favorite books of 2015. No. That’s not right. It’s one of my absolute favorite books ever. To paraphrase Looney Toons, “I will call it George and I will hug it and pet it and squeeze it…”
If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie: This was Casey’s pick for our group presentation and one of the titles that I likely would have never read, if not for being a member of this Committee. This ended up being one of my favorite books of those we read. It starts out as the portrait of a child living with a parent with mental illness and turns into a mystery and somehow works as both.
Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt: This was a late entry, but it quickly became clear that it was going to make our shortlist. This book quirks the folk/fairy tale in much the same way The Sisters Brothers did the Western. It’s weird and funny and dark and delightful.
Children and Other Wild Animals by Brian Doyle: True confession time.: This is the book that made me a Brian Doyle fan. These short personal essays show all of the humor and passion and poetic turns-of-phrase which have earned Doyle his many adoring fans.
This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison: This was Tim’s choice for our presentation and is probably Evison’s most commercially-accessible novel. Of all the novels on the shortlist, this one had the Committee most divided, though obviously the pros outweighed the cons. Personally, I found it an entertaining read with enough emotional depth to give it some heft.
The Carry Home by Gary Ferguson: Part nature journal, part memoir of loss, Ferguson’s book had absolutely no appeal to me as a reader. Well, no appeal until I read it. This is an intimate portrait of Ferguson’s journey to scatter the ashes of his wife, Jane, in the places she loved after her tragic death during a canoe trip. The story of their marriage and of the fateful trip unfold slowly over the course of the book, eventually ending in a place of hope and happiness.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: This was Madison’s choice for our presentation and she has been a vocal advocate for this book from the very start of our judging season. I can honestly say that I never expected to love a Kristin Hannah book, but I couldn’t put this one down and found myself completely verklempt by the end.
The Triumph of Seeds by Thor Hanson: Who knew that seeds could be so fascinating? This is the kind of accessible science writing that keeps readers engrossed and quickly turning pages, never realizing how much they’re learning as they do so. Hanson’s narrative voice and personal anecdotes make for easy and enjoyable reading.
Call Me Home by Megan Kruse: This was Michael’s pick for our presentation and Kruse was chosen by the National Book Foundation as one of this year’s “Five Under Thirty-Five.” This is a beautifully-written novel about a damaged and broken family, each member trying to heal on their own and eventually trying to find their way back together.
Unicorn on a Roll by Dana Simpson: How much do I love Marigold Heavenly Nostrils? Probably less than half of how much she loves herself, but still a whole heckuva lot. With Phoebe, Simpson perfectly captures what it’s like to be a fourth-grader. But, the real magic of this book is not the unicorn nor the spot-on depiction of childhood, it’s the whip-smart humor and pop culture references and the way Simpson appeals to both kids and adults. (Read the spelling bee scene if you have any doubts about the appeal of a comic about a girl and her unicorn.)
seveneves by Neal Stephenson: It’s long. Really long. But, then, I don’t think Stephenson is capable of writing a short book. Thankfully, Stephenson is also capable of sustaining a reader’s interest through all those pages. I don’t know that his characters are the ones I would want to be responsible for rebuilding the human race after the Moon blows up, but they are ones I want to read about.
So that’s our shortlist. We’re really proud of the work we’ve done and I think this is a strong list with a great mix of titles. Don’t see your favorite here? Keep in mind that we had almost 300 titles submitted and only twelve spaces on our shortlist. We do kind of wish we could award prizes to everyone, but that just wouldn’t be practical.Maybe your favorite really is on this list and you just haven’t read it yet. And, if you’re a bookseller, maybe seeing your favorite go missing from this year’s list will provide you incentive to join a future Committee.
Winners of the 2016 Pacific Northwest Book Awards, up to six from this Shortlist, to be announced January 7.
Billie Bloebaum has just finished her stint as Book Awards Committee Chair and she’s exhausted. She is now trying desperately to catch up on all the books that got neglected during the judging period. But all the work and assigned reading were totally worth it. Mostly. Now it’s your turn.