Thursday, November 1, 2012

National Book Award Nominee Table, with a Focus on the Young People's Literature Category, Because I Felt Ignorant About the Nominations.

On a recent trip to a larger city, I spent a lot of time at a wonderful store. Over the years, I've seen them add a lot of gift items to their mix. In the past, they had more defined gift spaces in each location, and while they have more of a separation between books and gifts than we do, those said display areas seem closer together. Partly I think when you are a larger operation, you wind up defining gift and book areas more, as you have separate people buying and merchandising those areas. If the areas aren't clearly defined, that competition for space can be brutal.

We have similar issues, of course--there's really no room for any gift stuff to be integrated into our cookbook table, for example, but when the gift buyer is also in charge of allocating the display space and also is the owner, I can step back and try to make sure that all of our display areas are well represented.Because we had a lot of stuff on our front table for a while pre-Halloween, we chose to follow that up with a book intensive display of the National Book Award nominees. I did throw our reading ducks into the mix; an odd thing I noticed is that we sold them better when they were mixed into book displays than when I bought a bunch of rubber-duck-themed items and included them there, though Stacie told me we did get some social media pickup of the display sign.

The National Book Award nominees are announced on November 14. Last year we didn't really highlight the nominees, but this year we had both the space and the books to put something together.  You of course have seen the list a zillion times, but I would be remiss not to include it here.

Junot Díaz, This Is How You Lose Her
Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King
Louise Erdrich, The Round House
Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds

Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain
Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Robert A. Caro, The Passage of Power
Domingo Martinez, The Boy Kings of Texas
Anthony Shadid, House of Stone

David Ferry, Bewilderment
Cynthia Huntington, Heavenly Bodies
Tim Seibles, Fast Animal
Alan Shapiro, Night of the Republic
Susan Wheeler, Meme

Young People’s Literature:
William Alexander, Goblin Secrets
Carrie Arcos, Out of Reach
Patricia McCormick, Never Fall Down
Eliot Schrefer, Endangered
Steve Sheinkin, Bomb

What did I read here? Nothing. Pathetic, I know. At least I was familiar with all the fiction titles and four of the five nonfiction ones. But when it came to poetry and young people's literature, I was completely ignorant. I was particularly surprised by the latter, as I pay so much more attention to young adult books than I did in the past.

Goblin Secrets is a fantasy that reminds me a bit of The Brixton Witch in description. Out of Reach is a realistic teen novel about a girl who struggles with her brother's addiction. Never Fall Down is a biographical novel about a boy who survived the killing fields of Cambodia and grew up to become a human rights activist. Endangered is a true-life novel about a girl who must save herself and a group of bonobos from a violent coup on the Congo. And Bomb is a nonfiction account of the race to build the atomic bomb.

Part of the issue for me is that I learn a lot about books from reviews, and beyond the trade sources (Kirkus, PW, Library and School Library Journal), it's hard to find reviews in the newspapers and magazines I follow for young people's lit, beyond an occasional roundup. I found  a review from Seth Mydans in The New York Times (which does make an attempt to cover the genre, with at least two focus issues per year) for Patricia McCormick's Never Fall Down.

The dearth of critical assessments, and the tendency of the genre to move towards series escapism makes awards more important than ever. So I'm excited to be focusing attention on the nominations, if just for two weeks. The awards are announced on November 14.

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