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Here’s the deal: I have this compulsion to be in the know.  Wendy at Six Boxes of Books was just talking about this, and while she talks about buzz, I think that extends to awards, too.  I want to have read all the Morris Award finalists so that I am ready to express an opinion when the winner is announced.  As soon as the Newbery and Printz are announced, I want to get my hands on any titles I haven’t already read.  So unless I’m oddly psychic, January 18 will mean my reading list gets longer.

Also, I’d like to expand my reading to more of the less-buzzed awards, because that only seems fair.  Lots of them fall outside my area for ordering, but it’s always good to be up on these things, to have a familiarity with at least a few fantastic titles in each category.  And a lot of those awards, embarassingly, often go to books I’d never pick up for fun.  Just from ALSC, check out this list of awards (other awards are mentioned at the bottom of the page – CSK, Printz, Schneider, Alex, Morris…)  You see the problem?  THERE ARE SO MANY.  No wonder most people (and the non-librarian public) mostly focuses on the Newbery and Caldecott.  I’d like to get my hands on at least the winners of each award, but even that is a tall order.  I’m not committing to it, but I’d feel like a good, well-rounded librarian if I did.

In the meantime, though – yikes!  I’d better clear some space on my library shelf.  It’s manageable right now, but some things have been there for an embarrasing length of time.  At the moment, I’m reading Maggie Stiefvater’s Ballad (sequel to Lament) and enjoying her snarktastic yet spooky take on fairies.  This puppy has holds on it, so I can’t let it sit too long.  Then, my next priority is the Mock Printz list, since the workshop is the 16th.  I’ve still got to read The Eternal Smile and All the Broken Pieces, both of which should be fairly quick reads (graphic novel and novel in verse, respectively).

THEN, there are heaps of finalists for the Morris Award and YALSA’s non-fiction award (which really needs a one-word name).  The only Morris finalist I’ve read is The Everafter, but I’ve got Flash Burnout and Hold Still on my shelf – the other two are still on hold.  For the non-fiction award, I’ve read three – Almost Astronauts (also a Mock Newbery), Charles and Emma (also a NBA finalist), and Claudette Colvin (NBA winner).  Written in Bone and The Great and Only Barnum are both on my shelf.  Chances of me starting and finishing 6 books in a week?  Slim, but crazier things have happened.  Probably more likely than me being up and on the awards announcement webcast at 4:45 am next Monday.

The nominees for the National Book Award were announced this week, and most of the discussion I’ve seen has centered around Stitches, David Small’s graphic novel memoir, and whether or not it belongs in the Young People’s Literature category.  Which is an interesting debate, but I’m not hugely opinionated about it, so I won’t get into that.  Instead, let’s skip on to a more interesting question to me, which is whether or not I’ll discover any new favorites in this year’s nominations.  As far as the NBAs go, I really only look at the YPL category.  This year it includes:

Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
(Henry Holt)
Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.)
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

I haven’t read a single one.  I was planning on reading Laini Taylor’s book, and I’d seen both Charles and Emma and Claudette Colvin mentioned as Newbery-worthy.

Last year’s nominees were What I Saw and How I Lied (the winner), The Underneath, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Chains, and The Spectacular Now (the only one I didn’t read).  The Underneath was the only one of that bunch to also show up on the Newbery list, while Frankie was the only one on the Printz list (gosh, last year was a good Printz year, wasn’t it?)  (And keep in mind that the 2008 NBA corresponds to the 2009 Printz, Newbery, Caldecott, etc., since the NBA is given at the end of one year and the ALA awards at the beginning of the next.)

In 2007, the nominee list included The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (winner), Skin Hunger, Touching Snow, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and Story of a Girl. The only overlap with the ALA awards was Hugo Cabret, which won the Caldecott.  Perhaps the only time the NBA and Caldecott have overlapped?  I read all of the nominees that year, although I probably would have picked up Hugo and Part-Time Indian anyway.  But I don’t think I’d even heard of Skin Hunger before the award, and boy is that a book that’s stuck with me!  What oomph.

I could keep going –  and I think I will.  2006 brought us the first volume of Octavian Nothing as the winner (huzzah!) and Keturah and Lord Death, Sold, The Rules of Survival and American Born Chinese as the runners-up.  I read all of those, too, and I think quite a few ended up on the Mock Printz list that year – definitely a YA year, not much for the younger end.  American Born Chinese was of course the Printz medalist that year, and Octavian was an honor book.

That brings us to 2005, the first year that I paid any attention to the NBA, probably because I remember discussion at work about whether or not The Penderwicks really deserved that win.  The other nominees were Where I Want to Be, Inexcusable, Autobiography of My Dead Brother, and Each Little Bird That Sings (the only one besides The Penderwicks that I read).  Of course, that was the year that Criss Cross won the Newbery – in other words, one of my least favorite Newbery years.  No overlap with the Newbery or Printz that year, but still a good year for the middle grade titles.

And now I’m back to thinking about this year and if I’ll have a chance to read through the list.  I’m going to a Mock Newbery and a Mock Printz this January, so I’ve got quite a reading list at the moment (I’ll post them later – I forgot to forward them to my home email).  The NBA winners are announced November 18, so I’d better get cracking if I want to have an opinion when the time rolls around.

For a few years now, I’ve followed the Tournament of Books, where books fight it out in semi-serious, semi-rediculous judged matches.  An alternative to sports for those of us who are oblivious to the existence of sports.  I’ve always liked the concept of the TOB – in part because the creators admit to the whole thing being unfair and a bizarre way to discuss books, and because it highlights the inherent unfairness of book awards, and because it’s just fun.

The problem, though, is that I haven’t usually read enough of the books to have a real opinion.  And reading about the rest of them doesn’t make me want to rush out and read them.  This year I did pretty well, since I happened to have picked up a few they chose.  I’d already read Netherland, The Lazarus Project, Unaccustomed Earth, and that lone and much-discussed YA title, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. I’d also listened to a bit of Home and heard a podcast of Toni Morrison reading a few chapters of A Mercy.  But with the exception of Frankie, I didn’t really care about the various matches.  These aren’t the types of books that I discuss passionately and would defend to the death.

Enter School Library Journal’s Battle of the BooksKids’ books.  Now this is my territory.  I’ve heard of grade school BOBs, where the kids read the books and argue/defend them, but this version has celebrity judges.  And by celebrity, I mean my kind of celebrity – authors and the like.  Authors I’ve read, which means I’ll read their opinions with all that background info.  Anyway, I’m madly putting things on hold so I can be opinionated as well – and I’ve already read 10 titles.  Round 1 is April 13 – and the schedule can be found at the link.

In an attempt to procrastinate yesterday (2 assignments and 3 days till summer vacation) I went through my bookshelves and pulled off all the titles I own but haven’t read.  I knew I had a bunch, but I was still surprised at the size of the piles.  Thirty-three, as it turns out, and most of them nice and thick.  So I think my summer reading project will be to knock out a few of those.  Now that they’re not mixed in with the rest of my e books, their presence will be a constant little reminder.

I might start off with something fun, like The Moonstone.  I just watched the Masterpiece Theater version of The Woman in White the other night, and that put me back in the mood for some Wilkie Collins.  The movie version was pretty good – they cut out some of the subplots, but kept just enough of the creepiness and the villainy.  I also liked that the actresses playing the sisters had a bit of resemblance – it didn’t stretch the imagination too much.  As with the book, though, I really liked Marian better than Laura.  Oh, and the uncle was perfect.  Definitely recommended if you like the book.

I also have a few Edward Eager titles that I know I read as a kid, but have no memory of.  Those will be good little snacks in between the thicker things, like The Idiot and Great Expectations.  I don’t plan on finishing all 33 titles, but half would be nice.  Of course, the pile will only grow since I have $50 in Amazon gift cards, but hey.  That’s a good problem to have.  I am planning on getting King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking, since I love the Baker’s Companion ever-so, and that will eat up a good chunk of the $50.

Any must-buy suggestions?

I’m swimming in library holds because I’m STILL READING MIDDLEMARCH.  I love it, though, I’ve got to tell you.  When Casaubon bit the dust, I literally cheered.  Sure, I knew it was coming based on a wintry viewing of the film version several years ago, but cheer I must.  Much of the book is hilarious, for one thing, if you’re awake enough to pay attention, but the emotional scenes also have this wonderful quality of describing how each character is misreading the other.  And, of course, contributing to their personal misery by it.  Also, can I say that I hate Rosamund?  I just hit the 600 page mark, so the end is in sight.

However, I  have made progress in the audio book department – I finished Gilead last night and discovered that I had really warmed to it.  For a story about father-son relationships, it really affected me.  It also dealt with spirituality without bashing me over the head.  The strength of it almost lay more in how it made me think about my own life than about the lives of the characters.  If that makes any sense.

Plus, I just realized that Gilead won the Pulitzer and hence qualifies for my third book in the Book Awards Challenge.  Which means, for those keeping track at home, that I’m on target for one a month (Kavalier and Clay in July, Roller Skates in August, Gilead in September).  I might have another award winner in my stack of holds at the library, but of course I can’t check because the entire system is down for two days.  I KNEW that there would be at least one moment where I was at home and needed to use the catalog, and it has arrived.  I’m so dependent.

Another belated Food Monday coming later…

(George Orwell) (Can you believe I’ve never read him?)

Food and books, books and food, the story of my life. Or at least it’s all I write about lately. This morning I was overwhelmed by the number of tomatoes gathering on my table, and decided it was time to make a tomato sauce. Which I’ve never done before. I let Betty Crocker be my guide, and figured with the next round I can try something more, oh, authentic. I cooked onion and garlic (twice as much garlic as Betty recommended, I’m not daft) in olive oil. Threw that in the crock pot. Added all my ripe tomatoes, chopped, plus a can of tomato sauce. Generous lashings of basil, oregano and parsley. If I’d been thinking, I would’ve blanched and skinned the tomatoes, but as Betty called for canned whole tomatoes (blasphemy) I forgot until it was too late. Oh, and fennel. It’s currently doing whatever it is things do in the crock pot.

Then, of course, the next order of business was to bake a chocolate cake. Last week, for a coworker’s birthday, I tried this sheet cake from BabelBabe (I want to call her BabelBake when I refer to her recipes) and it was a hit – gooey frosting, hint of cinnamon in the batter. And easy – no mixer or extreme arm strength required. But of course I only ate my one piece at the birthday interlude, and have been drooling over the thought of it ever since. So I made another today, but split the batter into two 9×9 pans (instead of one 13×9) figuring I can take one into work and keep the other. Any minute now I’m going to go cut into one and devour it.

This morning I finished reading At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays by Anne Fadiman, she of Ex Libris and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down fame. Quite pleasant. I made sure to drink my morning coffee while I read the coffee essay. Sadly, I didn’t manage to time a bowl of ice cream to the ice cream chapter. And lest you think it’s all delicious comestibles, there’s a dose of Arctic explorers and Romantic scandals as well.

Now I’m finally on to Roller Skates, by Ruth Sawyer of The Way of the Storyteller fame. Okay, at least in my circles that amounts to fame. It’s a lovely hardcover copy that cost my library all of $3.77 in 1967. Ah, library binding. Nothing lasts quite like you do. I’m reasonably sure I read this as a child, but I have no recollection of it. It will serve as the next installment on the Book Awards Reading Challenge – Newbery.

I also did some more work on my LibraryThing, until I tired of typing ISBNs. I’m forever ten-keying at work (both jobs) but my laptop only has the annoying row of numbers across the top. Also, the day is fast approaching when a paid account will sound like a wise way to spend money. Curse this desire to organize…

 Where have I been? Devouring The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I got up this morning, ate two blueberry pancakes, and didn’t put the book down (except to make a cup of tea) until I’d finished it. It lived up, not only to the title, but also to the front cover blurb describing it as ‘absolutely gosh-wow,’ a phrase I had stuck in my head the entire time I read. It even included an Antarctic adventure! And a near-drowning on dry land! Okay, those were the least of its wonders. A time-investment, all those delicious pages, but well worth it. And, the first title checked off of the Book Awards Reading Challenge. Next up will be Roller Skates (Newbery, but of course), another one that’s been languishing on my shelves for far too long.

I’ll have pictures of the Blackberry Mascarpone Tart once my brother wakes up an emails me the pictures – the final assembly occurred at my parents’ house on Saturday, and I’d forgotten my camera. But good thing I made it for a crowd, because boy was it messy once I cut into it. Also, I couldn’t seem to keep my fork away from it and would likely have consumed the entire thing if left to my own devices. Fortunately everyone else was enough enamored with it to leave no leftovers.

PS – I’m in search of the perfect, classic, blueberry pie recipe.  Any ideas?  I’m considering this one.

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